With Angelina Jolie, Liev Schrieber, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Daniel Olbrychski, August Diehl. Directed by Phillip Noyce. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action. 90 minutes.
SALT is essentially the same movie as “The A Team,” the chief differences being that there’s only one super agent instead of four and you don’t feel quite as stupid afterwards for having watched it. If you’re looking for a summer action movie that doesn’t require much thinking and features Angelina Jolie performing stunts that would be a workout for any screen hero, you’ll want to add “Salt” to your cinematic diet.
Since the film is all about its plot with its various twists, not much can be divulged. Evelyn Salt (Jolie) is a CIA agent. In a prologue we see her being tortured in North Korea in the first of many violent scenes that may make you wonder why the film was rated PG-13 instead of R. Two years later she is ready to celebrate her wedding anniversary with her her husband (August Diehl), a German expert on spiders, when her boss Ted Winter (Liev Schrieber) asks her to sit in on what should be a quick check on a potential Russian defector named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski).
Orlov may or may not be a plant, and reveals a long-running Russian operation to have deep cover agents in America who will be activated in a nefarious plot to destroy the U.S. and return Russia to the world stage. In the kicker, he names Salt as one of these agents. Winter believes her but the counterintelligence agent assigned to the case (Chiwetel Ejiofor) does not. The rest of the movie is one long chase as the Russian plot unfolds and Salt’s actual loyalties are slowly revealed.
That’s really it. Director Phillip Noyce essentially gives us a series of a set pieces each more preposterous than the last. There’s a chase involving numerous crashes and Salt leaping from the rooftops of one truck to another. There’s a bravura assassination inside a church during a state funeral. Finally there’s a showdown involving explosions and shootings inside the White House. Shades of “24,” indeed – the movie owes much more to the “take no prisoners” mentality of the recently concluded television series than anything in the real world.
As Salt, Jolie is less required to act than to react. Beautiful and alluring one moment, she can become a lethal weapon the next. It’s less important whether we believe she can drive a police van off an overpass and walk away from the resulting crash with nary a scratch than that we believe she can take out the numerous agents who have the misfortune to cross her path. Liev Schrieber and Chiwetel Ejiofor seem overqualified for their roles here, barely breaking into a sweat as agents with opposing views. They give the film much more dramatic heft than Kurt Wimmer’s script warrants. One has to wonder if anything other than the money involved attracted them to the project in the first place.
Still, in the ongoing oppressive heat, “Salt” holds our attention while we enjoy both the air conditioning and the onscreen chills. Box office returns will determine if the implied sequel ever gets made, but it says something about the movie’s shallowness that you won’t be leaving the theater speculating about what happens next.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.