F resh off of giving out four-out-of-four stars for the first time this year ("Inception"), I headed to see Angelina Jolie as CIA agent Evelyn Salt in "Salt." Screenwriter Kurt Wimmer fills a fast-moving 100 minutes with double-cross after double-cross, explosion after explosion, and the pace never falls below semi-urgent. Jolie is more than up to shouldering the load of an action movie and director Phillip Noyce captures the stunts on-screen in a very satisfying, in-your-face fashion.
"Salt" is a decent summertime blockbuster, really. It just holds the unfortunate distinction of being "that movie." It is that movie that came exactly one week after "Inception" had everyone atwitter, so much so, in fact, that its strong second weekend was enough to hold off the debuting "Salt" for the top spot at the box office. It is almost unfair, but "decent summertime blockbuster" - thanks to "Inception" - translates immediately into "OK, I guess."
The trailers for "Salt" played heavily on a Jolie line from the movie, "You think everyone is who they say they are?" The rest of those trailers, and the start of the actual movie, focus on a Russian defector who is volunteering some potentially devastating information to the CIA (a Russian spy will be traveling to New York today to kill the Russian president). The catch is that while he is divulging this juicy spy-gossip to Evelyn Salt, he also claims the name of the Russian spy is, ah, Evelyn Salt. Salt smirks with amusement when he says this. "My name is Evelyn Salt," she says. He doesn't miss a beat. "Then you are a Russian spy."
With those words, the attention of the men (CIA and otherwise... I always lose track of the agencies as they multiply quickly in these movies) on the other side of the interrogation glass shift their attention from the Russian to the now-alleged-Russian spy, Salt. So, do we think everyone is who they say they are? I won't ruin the twists and surprises for you, but I will tell you that you can and should apply Salt's question to every character in the movie. Not just Salt.
Jolie plays Salt ably. She has already proven she can do action (see "Raider, Tomb" and "Smith, Mr. and Mrs."). The difference this time around is "Salt" is actually trying to maintain a sternness to its feel. Salt kills often, and often she is killing out of vengeance. There are not very many light moments to be had as Salt does her best to simultaneously avoid capture and leave a path of destruction behind her wherever she goes. It is Salt against the world, and Jolie was the right choice to play her.
When "Salt" came to its end (set up nicely for a sequel should this one perform well enough), though, I was not exactly brimming with excitement. When "Inception" ended, I was texting friends before I was out of the theater. If anything, "Salt" left me feeling a touch unsettled. Without the fun and light-heartedness (ala "Knight and Day" from earlier this summer), I am not sure how to look at "Salt." On the one hand it is trying hard to be pseudo-serious; on the other hand, it is every bit as over the top and silly, at times, as "Knight and Day" was. My guess is Noyce was going for something like what Paul Greengrass gave us with "The Bourne Supremacy" and "The Bourne Ultimatum." "Salt," though, is not in the same league as those movies.
It is a decent summertime blockbuster, but beyond that? I suppose Salt's question ("You think everyone is who they say they are?") applies to not only Evelyn Salt, but "Salt" as well.