Angelina Jolie stars as Evelyn Salt in this Phillip Noyce (Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger) throwback to Cold-War thrillers. And maybe it shouldn’t matter, and maybe it makes me a raging asshole for saying this, but when casting the role for a bad-ass double, triple, or quadruple CIA Agent who will be tasked with jumping off of bridges onto moving 18-wheelers, roughing up aggressors, or standing up to a stiff wind, it might have been in the best interest of the studio to bring aboard someone capable in real life of winning two out of three arm wrestling matches with Betty White. Maybe that sounds shallow, but this is not a case of lookism, mind you: Angelina Jolie is a beautiful woman, and Wanted more than displayed her action bona fides. Unfortunately, it appears as though Ms. Jolie hasn’t eaten since she left the set of Wanted, and while body dysmorphia might enhance her chances at being cast in the next George Romero production, it’s hard to take seriously a Jolie bobble-head perched on a wicker coat rack as an action hero. It’s not that Jolie doesn’t have the talent or the presence to pull off the role, it’s that she doesn’t have the body mass. She’s a withered carcass parading around in a blond wig and pea-coat that she probably needs invisible wires to support. And after cracking three dozen heads in Salt, you begin to wonder why no one thinks to pull out the one thing that could knock the Evelyn Salt immovable force on her ass, namely a window fan set to medium.
If you can move past Jolie’s undernourishment, however, Salt is a nifty little fast-paced action thriller, heavy on the espionage but way too light on the mayo. Salt is a CIA Agent working in D.C., when a Russian heavy with cancer waltzes in to an interrogation room and announces that there’s a secret Russian army of spies, trained as kids to infiltrate the American government as actual American government officials, rise up on the day of reckoning, and take down the United States from the inside. That means killing the Russian president during the Vice-President’s funeral, and the Russian spy in charge of that mission is one Evelyn Salt, who just happens to be the woman interrogating the confessor. Oopsie. The CIA, of course, believes the Russian’s story because they have newfangled doohickeys that can tell whether a man is lying. Suddenly, Salt is on the run, trying to protect her husband, who she fears will be the target of these Russian spies.
The question, of course, is whether Salt is, in fact, a Russian spy herself, and despite enough logical inconsistencies to short circuit HAL 9000, Phillip Noyce — working from a weak Kurt Wimmer (Law Abiding Citizen, Equilibrium) script — manages to keep you guessing for much of the movie, though part of that mystery is heightened by the very appealing notion that Jolie could actually be a villain, a notion that’s far too much to expect from a Hollywood production, but intriguing enough to tempt our sense of optimism. A cynic, no doubt, would look at the budget figures, the release date, and the number of theaters that Salt opened in, and draw his own conclusions. But maybe the cynic is over-thinking it. Or maybe he’s not. I’ll never tell.
Noyce keeps the pace at a nice clip, and there’s enough running, jumping, and gunfire to distract you from the plot holes and even keep you entertained for much of the running time, when you’re not wondering whether Jolie’s willowy limbs will break off during one of the action sequences. I’d like to say I could rise above that distraction, but when an action movie demands as much physical interaction as Salt does, it’s hard not to wonder whether starvation will kill her before the bad guys do. But on the other hand, Salt will likely prove a boon to theaters, as sympathetic hunger pangs are likely to drive up concession sales.