Never has an actress looked so good in a tank top under a sleek black pants suit — with the exception of maybe Uma Thurman, Angelina Jolie proves she has the Hollywood femme action market cornered, and she even does a lot of her own stunts.
“Salt” is destined to be the summer blockbuster despite sleeker but tepid male-oriented vehicles such as “Inception” — hey guys, it’s the truth. When it comes to sprinting on New York subway tracks, dodging bullets at the speed of light and other muscle-bound action fare, Jolie pulls no punches (pun fully intended).
So what if the plot doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny. Or if its characters lack meaningful conversation. “Salt” is packed with nutrients good for adult sensibilities; it doesn’t insult your intelligence, and is in no way lofty — just the right amount of smarts for light summer fare, providing plenty of inspiration for workaholics who needed to turn off their computers and get to the gym, like, last month.
Jolie is Salt, Evelyn Salt — and though she never introduces herself that way while gliding around a dancefloor in a tux, for all intents and purposes she is 007. Salt is just as dedicated to her work as a spy, just as highly skilled and dangerous to mess with. (In one jaw-dropping scene she spreads a coat of latex over her face to disguise herself as a man, and the sight is far from pretty.) On the other hand, Salt works for the CIA, steers clear of cocktails and never lapses into psychobabble whining like a certain British secret agent.
Married to a nice, unwordly professor type (August Diehl) and working under terrific boss Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber), Salt is in a comfortable groove for about 30 seconds at the beginning of the movie — until the world collapses around her ears. A Russian defector (Daniel Olbrychski) walks into the office and denounces her as a Russian sleeper spy. Though Ted doesn’t believe it, CIA counterintelligence officer Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) — who was none too friendly toward Salt in the first place — covertly orders her arrest.
A lesser agent would have proclaimed his or her innocence and gotten a good lawyer, but Salt is not one to argue, explain or break down in righteous tears. The minute she senses there are more foes than friends in her workplace, Salt makes her escape without a backward glance. Her objective: to meet and confront the Russian president during his visit to New York, though it’s been circulated that her mission as a Russian spy is to assassinate him.
Before long, both the CIA and the Russians are on her trail, and Salt morphs into just what the defector had described her as — invincible, unstoppable, “The best agent any organization can hope to get.” She certainly doesn’t mind changing her hair color about five times in as many days, though any modern gal will tell you dye jobs require time and patience and, above all, a decent bathroom, which Salt just doesn’t have, being on the run 24 hours a day and all.
And what about her fantastic, deceptively simple wardrobe that would usually require its wearer to be absolutely de-stressed and of sound well-being in order to look good? But apparently, gracefulness on a nonstop regimen of shooting, running, climbing (but no sleeping, ever) — that other action heroes of this day and age usually leave to the CGI labs — are all a part of Salt’s training and personality.
Not that director Phillip Noyce makes any digressions to explore Salt’s personality. Really, who is she? OK, she’s married, but Salt and the professor hardly spend two minutes in each other’s company. She isn’t emotional or romantic and she’s not likely to unburden her troubles to her boss, however understanding he may be. Yet she’s unencumbered by issues that plague other professional women, like having to eat dinner by herself, the tick-tock of the biological clock, and so on.
If there was a gender angle to “Salt,” it would be tempting to see her as the modern woman who chooses to wear the mantle of heroic (albeit cliched) manhood on her slender shoulders, rather than wait for the men around her to fill that role and end up disappointed. (Indeed, the role was reportedly written for Tom Cruise.) Noyce doesn’t go there though, and in the end, deep analysis ceases to matter. Jolie’s Salt is a lingering taste on the palate, and the undisputed flavor of the month.