Enough other reviewers have spent time being clever about “Salt”— now available on DVD — that I won’t waste your time. No, I don’t think it’s “worth its salt” either, nor do I find the film especially “salty” or “spicy,” the presence of Angelina Jolie as the title character notwithstanding. After a semi-epic buildup, during which it was compared to the Bourne series, the actual movie left me feeling, um, flat, with a dull taste in my mouth. (OK, I couldn’t resist.)
One of the things that director Phillip Noyce should know about action movies is to leave enough quiet spots to set the action off, the way comic relief does for drama. After all, Noyce made some excellent thrillers out of Tom Clancy novels back in the 90’s. But here he and screenwriter Kurt Wimmer present an all but unbroken series of fights, chases, explosions, and general mayhem, all accompanied by James Newton Howard’s relentless, pounding score. The effect is numbing, rather than exhilarating.
Too bad, because one senses that there might have been an interesting movie in here. The set-up is not especially original, except for the gender shift. Accused secret agent suffers torture in North Korean prison but is released to her countrymen in a prisoner swap. (A recent Bond flick comes to mind.) Two years later, confined to a desk job at the CIA, she is accused of being a Soviet spy, part of a plot to kill the current Russian president and stir up some chaos. Protesting her innocence, she escapes her employers’ clutches and sets off to demonstrate her innocence.
Or does she? We learn through flashbacks that Salt is actually part of a large but indeterminate number of “sleeper” agents who were raised in Cold War Russia and now infiltrate American culture, ready to be summoned into action. (She’s not the only one in the movie, but it wouldn’t be quite fair to tell you who else is.) Salt’s superior officer, Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber) wants to believe she’s not a double agent, despite the evidence and the insistence of fellow agent Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) that she be captured and questioned.
Catching her leads everyone involved on a number of not-so-merry but effectively edited chases. In the course of all the running, more info comes out that makes us wonder whether Salt is who she claims or who the CIA believes she is or — someone else. But the question of her true identity and purpose, though promising, never really goes anywhere, the filmmakers being too busy gearing up for the next Big Action Scene. A good deal of explanatory footage appears to have been left on the proverbial cutting room floor, but, as someone once said of a famous novel, one would not wish it any longer than it is.
“Salt” is rated “PG-13” mostly for violence and intense action sequences. (Nobody has any time here for sex, the title character notwithstanding.) If you’re into basically mindless action, this could be your ticket. Otherwise, enjoy an action-free, peaceful holiday season.