It’s always fun when Angelina Jolie makes a new movie. I just love to trash her. Her self-righteous celebrity overshadows any chance of nuanced acting. It’s impossible to separate her celebrity from her characters, or to think of her as anyone but Angelina Jolie. Yet she brazens on, dividing her time between “serious” “Oscar-worthy” performances and fluffy popcorn flicks such as this one, with an acting style at least as large and twice as broad as her ego.
There’s a reason she keeps reverting back to action movies — she has the appearance, appeal, and intellectual capacity of a comic book character. But there’s a market out there for comic book heroes, and there will always be a market for Angie. Just ask her.
The advertising campaign for “Salt,” her latest film, is more mysterious than the film itself. It focuses mostly on Jolie’s face and the question, “Who is Salt?” One can’t help but make the connection with “Who is John Galt?” and Jolie’s failed attempt to play Dagny Taggart in “Atlas Shrugged.” Not that Taylor Schilling, whose acting accomplishments are hardly noteworthy, is likely to be much better than Jolie would have been in “Atlas.” I may actually find myself yearning for Jolie when that film comes out.
But let’s get back to “Who is Salt?” As the film opens we find that Salt is a CIA agent in a North Korean prison, being tortured in a lovely and seductive matching floral bra and panties ensemble. I don’t mean that wearing the lingerie itself is torture; she’s bloodied and
beaten in the scene. But come on, does Jolie want to be seen as a serious spy in this film, or as a misplaced Victoria’s Secret model?
Later, after she is rescued from North Korea, returns to Washington, and is accused of being a Russian mole, she quickly removes her black lace panties and uses them to cover a surveillance camera so her accusers can’t see which way she is going. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to cover it with one of the high-heeled shoes that she removes at the same time, so she can run faster? That black lace thong looked mighty peekaboo.
Speaking of running — shouldn’t a spy who is able to leap from tall buildings with a single bound, fly through the air to land on a series of moving vehicles, and knock a policeman through an armored car door with a single shove of her shoulder, be able to run across the street without looking like a school- girl running to first base in gym class? Oh right — she isn’t wearing any panties in this scene. Better keep the knees low. Regardless, Jolie should have buffed up a little for the role, and she certainly should have learned how to pick up her knees when she’s running for her life. Later in the film, when the CGI magic kicks in and the stunt double takes over (beware when actors don caps and coats!), the action picks up. But the point is, director Philip Noyce seems not to have been able to decide how best to use his high-profile star — whether to make “Salt” a soft-porn froth or a high-action thriller. Evidently he opted for both.
So just who is Salt? She is a CIA agent accused of being a “K-A” (whatever that stands for), one of several children supposedly chosen and trained in Russia to infiltrate the United States, bide their time, and become killing machines when ordered to stir up trouble. Is she a K-A, or is she wrongly accused? We’re not supposed to know her true motives or her true identity, but they’re pretty easy to figure out within the first 15 minutes of the film, especially when she starts shooting up St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
The film implies that “Lee Harvey Oswald” was a “K-A” who pulled the old switcheroo when the real Oswald was in Russia, where he assumed his identity in order to assassinate John F. Kennedy. Interesting idea — but that was 45 years ago. The Cold War is over! If the plot were changed to something about Arab jihadists, we might have had a timely film at least. But that might also have offended a few terrorists. And it certainly would have required a different set of actors.
The movie is mostly standard shoot ’em up fare, and a series of entertaining, if outlandish, action scenes. Most action thrillers today resemble video games, short on plot and long on body count, with protagonists shooting people indiscriminately around every corner. They make me long for the unwritten code of the Golden Age of film, when audiences’ sensibilities required a certain standard of honor and morality from the hero. The heroic Sergeant Ryan (Frank Sinatra) had to die at the end of “Von Ryan’s Express” (1965), to atone for the fact that he had killed a woman, even though his reason for killing her was justifiable. Heroes just didn’t do those things. We’ve lost the shock, the shame, and the impact of killing.
Moreover, how many times over the past decade have we seen the likes of Bruce Willis and Tom Cruise leaping onto moving trucks, landing on airplane wings, and weaving in and out of oncoming traffic on hijacked motorcycles? It isn’t as breathtaking as it used to be. Still, I suppose it’s different to see a woman doing it.
“Salt” has a few interesting, if predictable, twists and turns, cleverly emphasized by Salt’s clothes. After the initial rosebud bra and panties ensemble, she is costumed in various gray outfits, indicating the ambiguity of her character — neither black nor white, but sometimes both. Her name also sig- nifies her character; it’s a throwback to the Cold War and its Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT). But if you’re looking for an engrossing mystery with an exciting “Aha!” moment, this
is not it. We know who Salt is. We’re not even very surprised by what she does. Unfortunately, a little bit of Salt goes a long, long way. I feel my blood pressure rising — and it isn’t from the popcorn.