Review: 'Salt'

(Two-and-a-half stars)

In her new action thriller "Salt," Angelina Jolie doesn't just play a spy. She doesn't just play a superspy. She plays a sooooperspy. (The better to stoooopefy, my dears.)

As you might imagine, the approach of Jolie, director Philip Noyce ("Clear and Present Danger") and screenwriter Kurt Wimmer ("Law Abiding Citizen") has its merits. The story of a career CIA intelligence officer informed that she's been a Russian sleeper agent all along, "Salt" gives Jolie plenty of opportunities to bust out her perfected, pursed-lip "I'm about to do something naughty" look. The problem is that what may seem at first blush like an unconventional action movie has within it, waiting to break out, its own sleeper agent: a highly conventional action movie designed for franchise potential (a star is "Bourne"?).

Suddenly on the run, Jolie's highly trained operative Evelyn Salt must contend with two problems: eluding the full force of the CIA and tracking down her beloved husband (a German arachnologist played by August Diehl), who's likely a victim of kidnap or worse. For the audience, there's a larger question: Whose side is Salt on?

If only Noyce didn't make it so easy to predict where "Salt" is going, maybe it would be harder to predict where Salt is going -- so to speak. Still, the first act's breakout of good old-fashioned "Fugitive" action allows for some preposterous but cool stunts of the James Bond school, and the able Jolie thrives on every such opportunity. (It's a testament to Jolie's action-star credibility that she replaced the once-attached Tom Cruise.)

Salt's ingenuity, hyper-speed reaction time and application of brute force make her a kind of Jackie Bauer who we'd better hope is working for the good guys. Jolie gets pro support from Liev Schreiber, as longtime colleague Ted; and Chiwetel Ejiofor as the skeptical Peabody (sample line: "There's a mole in Russia House, I'm sure of it"). Both are tasked with hunting down Salt, who may or may not be poised to assassinate the Russian president. This question gets answered in another novel set piece -- this one set in a New York City cathedral -- that's emblematic of the movie: momentarily exciting but utter nonsense, a Burmese Tiger Pit built over a gaping plot hole.

So "Salt" is a wild ride, crazy-ridiculous, predictable to anyone who's ever seen a big-budget spy picture, but also pleasingly stunt-happy. Whether or not audiences will want to sign up depends on what they're in the mood for: a gourmet meal like "Inception" or fast food. Add "Salt" to taste.

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action. 1 hour, 40 minutes.

— Peter Canavese

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