Thursday, July 22, 2010

'Salt' is peppered with non-stop action

Angelina Jolie is armed and dangerous in Salt.

Angelina Jolie kicks much butt in Salt, a thriller about a CIA agent who's accused of being a Russian spy, and, as a result, spends most of the movie on the run. If you like improbable action -- no, make that impossible - action, you'll get your fill and then some from a movie that moves with Road Runner speed.

At one point, Jolie's Evelyn Salt leaps off an overpass onto a speeding semi-truck, and that's just the beginning of the sequence. The movie features feats no mortal could accomplish without either winding up in a coffin or a full body cast.

Salt? She takes a licking and -- as an old Timex slogan put it -- keeps right on ticking.

You can't believe a minute of this action, but the exaggeration can be fun, and - for the most part - director Phillip Noyce handles the mayhem with the kind of old-pro efficiency you'd expect from the man who directed Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, but who most recently has taken a sabbatical from Hollywood with small movies such as Catch a Fire, The Quiet American and Rabbit-Proof Fence. This time, Noyce abandons the logic that rules the physical world, and allows the action to rip as Salt tries to evade capture by two CIA colleagues (Liev Schreiber and (Chiwetel Ejiofor), fine actors who do what's required of them; i.e., they add seriousness and tension to a script that's not afraid to go over the top.

The screenplay puts Salt in jeopardy when a Russian defector (Daniel Olbrychski) turns up in Washington, and names her as a sleeper agent, timely stuff given recent news stories about Russian spies in our suburban midst. Salt denies any involvement with the Russians, and takes off in hopes that she can clear her name and save her scientist husband, who has been snatched by the very same Russians.

For a while, it looks as if Noyce has pulled off a nearly impossible feat, dropping mega-tons of fantasy action into a realistically presented environment. Cinematographer Robert Elswit has decided to keep the images on the dark side, and the movie has a brooding quality that suggests more importance than the story ever really earns.

I read somewhere that Salt resembles a Bond movie. Maybe a little, but the best Bond movies had winking humor, something that's lacking in Salt, a thriller with conspiratorial flavor that includes a new theory about the assassination of President Kennedy.

The dour mood probably is understandable. Much of the Bond humor involved 007's taste for high living, martinis and women. Evelyn Salt has no time for pleasure. She's interesting because she's not like Bond. She operates in a universe that's morally ambiguous. She's also motivated by personal concerns the likes of which seldom troubled Bond.

For most of the movie's fast-paced 100 minutes, Jolie looks deadly and dangerous, and some of the action is exceptionally well done. I had a white-knuckle moment when the script called for Salt to climb from window ledge to window ledge as she tries to flee her pursuers.

I happened to see Salt at a preview screening at which the film broke. During the time it took to get the screening up and running again, I asked my wife where she thought the plot was headed. She guessed right, which suggests that some of the key developments are not rife with surprise.

If you're a stickler for credibility, you'll want to steer clear of Salt, which is geared for a season in which we're asked to suspend disbelief as freely as we sometimes offer gratuitous advice. And given its pedal-to-the-metal approach, it's hardly surprising that Salt leaves the door open for a sequel. The way Jolie handles the action, it's likely we'll see one.

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