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'Salt' low on flavor

Article Published: Jul. 29, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
'Salt'  low on flavor

Remember that Angelina Jolie movie? The one where she shoots at things, all attractive like?

Then she jumps on a moving vehicle, and shoots some more stuff, still all attractive like?

It's a simple formula, most of the time accompanied by a simple plot, or at least one that knows better than to take itself too seriously.

In Salt, there's not a grain of humor to make this preposterously plotted action-shooter palatable. Though capably shot and with proficient stunt work, reportedly much of Jolie's own, Salt simply doesn't work.

It's not that Jolie doesn't work. She's incredibly competent as an action star, and she does well with the material given. It's just that the material neglects to invest its audience in its protagonist, keeping viewers lost in such a thick haze of convoluted mystery that they simply don't care what happens to the protagonist.

In this case, the protagonist is Evelyn Salt (Jolie), a CIA agent specializing in Russian intelligence. Her friend and partner is Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber, Taking Woodstock), and both are taken by surprise when a Russian defector (Daniel Olbrychski) identifies Salt as a Russian spy, intent on assassinating the Russian president on his visit to New York City.

As her colleagues, including Winter, begin to question her allegiance, Salt promptly escapes from her CIA office and embarks on the first of many high-speed, gun-toting chases, presumably to clear her name.

But that's where the plot gets muddled. Director Phillip Noyce, who's shown his mettle for political thrillers with Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, does manage to capture a sense of politics as usual, in that we have no idea what the hell is going on.

As Salt leaps from trains, ducks through corridors, roundhouse kicks police officers, dyes her hair and unconvincingly disguises herself as a man (Seriously, how could anyone be fooled by those pouting lips and sultry gaze?), Noyce keeps us entirely in the dark as to Salt's motivation.

Is she trying to clear her name? Is she really a Russian spy? Is she really a double-double agent? Did she really think she could pass herself off as a man? Noyce and writer Kurt Wimmer (Law Abiding Citizen) give us nothing, when they should be giving us even just a little something to relate to this character.

Instead, you've got some well-orchestrated fight sequences devoid of any narrative significance. Since we don't know jack about this character, we don't care what happens to her. A mystery is fine, and a clever plot twist is welcome, but the audience needs a little bit of light for those revelations and twists to mean anything.

In fact, the only compelling character is Winter, since we're somewhat aware of his motivation - to find Salt - and since Schreiber's an excellent actor.

One of Salt's more refreshing features is the return of Cold War drama to the spy thriller, almost a callback to the James Bond movies of yesteryear, with one major exception - Salt's low on flavor.

Salt, rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone.

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