Even Angelina can’t spice up ‘Salt’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

GIRLS WITH GUNS | She may not have a dragon tattoo, but Salt shows men who’s boss.

1 out of 5 Stars
Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber,
Chiwetel Ejiofor.
Rated R. 100 mins.
Now playing in wide release

Peace dividends and human rights notwithstanding, the fall of the Soviet Union dealt a body blow to the espionage thriller. Russia was such a delicious, non-racially-charged enemy. Now, we only have bearded, dishdasha-wearing, Arabic-speaking villains. Their anger is fueled by religion, not politics. How dull is that? The Bourne movies (based on books written during the Cold War) do a good job of capturing the “spook” quality of the spy game, but how much shaky camerawork can one eyeball take?

Too bad the lone foray into old school espionage comes in the form of Salt. The Russians are back, supposedly with a deep undercover double agent, CIA operative Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie), planning to assassinate the Russian premier and start WWIII. Think No Way Out in heels. Think The Girls from Brazil.

I think not.

If it didn’t star an A-lister like Jolie, Salt would be a B-movie through-and-through; I can imagine Dolph Lundgren or, God help us, Pamela Anderson taking the lead and bringing zero personality to a film already desperate to find any identity.

The A-Team is supposed to be mindless summer entertainment; this movie imagines itself as something smarter, more political, more savvy about the real world. That’s established with the Cold War opening and the high-tech early scenes. But it quickly devolve into idiotic security missteps that would make a thinking citizen fear for our national safety — in the first 20 minutes, two potential terrorists escape from CIA headquarters. The reasons make no sense. None of it does.

Director Philip Noyce stages the action to seem awkward and silly, rather than crisp and exciting. Like Jason Bourne, Salt should be effortlessly resourceful, but instead merely trods through a series of improbabilities that work themselves out mechanically. Angelina’s last action orgasm, Wanted, at least was fun nonsense — this is just nonsense with a plot both contrived and completely lacking surprises. As in The Game, it takes an idea that could be joyously improbable and turns it into something utterly, insultingly unbelievable.

Jolie dressed in male drag is as close as the movie comes to comedy, though it’s not intended to be humorous. That says it all. Keep this Salt out of your diet — no one needs excess so-dumb.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 23, 2010.