One of my favorite moments from the soon to be defunct At the Movies occurred just after Roger Ebert had given one of the Lara Croft movies a thumbs up. His co-host (this was post Siskel, and I don’t remember if it was Roeper or not) accused him of liking every movie with Angelina Jolie in it. “And what’s wrong with that?” replied Roger. And he was right. There are some movie stars that through their familiar mannerisms, sheer talent and yes, sexual magnetism, are able to transcend their material, no matter how bad, or in the case of Salt, how silly it is. I’m not sure that the lovely Ms. Jolie can redeem everything, especially something as execrable as the Lara Croft movies, at least in my eyes. But if she does if for Roger, good for him.

Salt is a Bourne ripoff. There’s no point in even pretending otherwise. Director Phillip Noyce and screenwriter Kurt Wimmer strive for the same realistic tone, using handheld cameras, muted colors, and footage from low resolution security cameras. They revel in details about security measures in top secret government installations, which may or may not be accurate. In the end they fall short of reproducing the the Bourne magic but what they wind up with is pretty decent.

The plot is flat out ridiculous. During the cold war the old Soviet Union flooded the US with sleeper agents, who were trained in childhood to become deeply placed mole assassins. Their lives were mapped out for them, including what colleges to go to and what careers to take. Most of these were in the high levels of government. They awaited the day that they would get word to go into action and bring down the United States government. Evelyn Salt, played by Angelina Jolie, may or may not be one of those agents. She is accused of being one by an asylum seeker and spends the rest of the movie in an extended chase scene.

Why do I like this film? For one thing it’s fast. Just over an hour and a half is about the right time for a nonsensical action film. They don’t give you time to wonder about the gaping plot holes. You admire the stunts; you admire Angelina Jolie and the next thing you know you’re walking out of the theater, happy and entertained. It does the job well enough.

The performances are pretty good. Angelina Jolie doesn’t really do anything different here from her roles in Lara Croft or Wanted. She’s in very familiar territory. But the reason she gets these roles is because she’s good at them. Plus she throws herself into the action sequences with total conviction. Liev Schreiber is fast becoming one of my favorite character actors. He does fine work as Ted Winter, Evelyn’s boss at the CIA. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Peabody, the counter intelligence agent out to track Salt down. Ejiofor is a talented actor. It doesn’t really show here because is role is sort of one note.

In the final analysis, I’d have to say that Salt is disposable cinema, a B movie with A list stars. You see and are entertained for an hour and a half on a broiling hot summer afternoon. Then you forget it shortly thereafter. Besides it has Angelina Jolie in it.

And what’s wrong with that?


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July 2010
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