Familiar flavor

Salt twists and explodes like a dumb, fun summer matinee should

MacGyver meets Bond in rogue CIA agent Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie).

MacGyver meets Bond in rogue CIA agent Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie).

Starring Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Directed by Phillip Noyce. Feather River Cinemas, Paradise Cinema 7 and Tinseltown. Rated PG-13.
Rated 3.0

Some folks have a problem with Angelina Jolie, and Salt isn’t gonna change any minds in that regard. As the eponymous title character, she doesn’t do all that much to inspire empathy. Although, in filmmaking shorthand they give her a ragamuffin pooch to bond with. It doesn’t really work. She still comes across as a cold fish.

As we meet agent Evelyn Salt of the CIA, she’s getting a hose shoved down her throat by North Korean interrogators. What follows is pretty nasty. A couple of years later (not sure what the prologue was supposed to supply, other than vaguely pervy imagery of a nekkid Jolie getting beat up by a group of men) she’s back at her desk in D.C., getting all romantic about its being her anniversary. Jolie getting romantic involves Googling how to fold napkins into weird shapes.

Her loafing on company time is interrupted by a call to duty—a Russian defector claiming to be a spy has walked through the doors, and they need her and her partner (Liev Schreiber) to interrogate the man and see how useful he’ll be. Salt isn’t the most charming interviewer, and the man returns the favor by burning her as a Russian spy herself, a deep mole set to assassinate the visiting Russian president. Well, that complicates things. So much for ducking out early for the anniversary dinner.

And so much for what had up until then looked to be another routine thriller, as Salt gets Bourne-again and rabbits from headquarters (actually, it’s a li’l more complicated and involves blowing things up).

Things start getting twisty-turny as we try to figure out whether Salt is being framed or she really is some organic Terminator from the former Soviet Union. It’s all perfectly ludicrous, with throwback villains and Salt careening off walls like a bouncy ball that never breaks a sweat. It’s all fun to watch, with the old-school stunts seemingly done by Jolie herself, but after a while the set pieces become so absurd and the twists so convoluted that the brain shuts off with a “Whatever” sigh.

Admittedly, it’s an interesting script by Kurt Wimmer, who also wrote and directed the hyper-kinetic thrillers Equilibrium and Ultraviolet. But as directed by Phillip Noyce (Patriot Games), Wimmer’s set pieces are given too much of a studied feel to come across as truly thrilling. And the wheels-within-wheels premise becomes so twisted up in itself that by the halfway mark the final twist becomes pretty obvious.

Still, if the idea of watching Jolie kick a bunch of dudes’ asses for 100 minutes sounds enticing, then Salt delivers.