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Video: 'Salt'

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updated 7/19/2010 8:35:13 PM ET 2010-07-20T00:35:13
Review

"Salt" is, quite literally, a shaggy dog story.

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Despite the cryptic ads that pose the question, "Who Is Salt?" and regardless of the various twists and turns designed to throw us off, the intentions of Angelina Jolie's super-spy character, Evelyn Salt, are never really in question. This is obvious, based on one comparatively small gesture in an early scene.

Salt, a CIA officer accused of being a Russian spy, dashes home to grab the supplies she needs to go on the run and hunt for her husband, who's missing. She grabs a backpack hidden in a trunk full of clothes, but while she's there she also sees her scruffy, little terrier, padding about the apartment, nervous because everything is in upheaval. Once she escapes by climbing out the window and slinking from ledge to ledge, high above the sidewalk — barefoot in a pencil skirt, in the winter, no less — she persuades a young girl in a neighboring apartment to let her in.

There, Salt opens the backpack and produces — you guessed it — the aforementioned scruffy, little terrier. (Good thing they didn't have a Great Dane.) And you realize right then and there that anyone who would go to that much trouble to save a dog cannot be a bad person. It's impossible. So from that point on, while there's tension in "Salt," there really is no suspense. Any attempts to confuse us about our heroine's true nature — and there are many — feel like an elaborate sham.

Under the direction of Phillip Noyce, though, at least it's a well-made sham. "Salt" allows Noyce to return to the kind of action thrillers he's made previously, like the Tom Clancy adaptations "Patriot Games" and "Clear and Present Danger." It's muscular, gritty and propulsive. (Robert Elswit, an Oscar winner for "There Will Be Blood," is the cinematographer.) It's also totally ludicrous and lacking in even the slightest shred of humanity.

It's intriguing that, while a man originally was the main character in Kurt Wimmer's script (and reportedly was to be played by Tom Cruise), making Salt a woman in no way depletes the film of its brawniness. But Jolie expressed interest in playing James Bond a few years back, and voila — Edwin Salt became Evelyn Salt. No actress working today is as convincing an action star as Jolie, and she does tear it up here; the fight scenes are visceral, not balletic like the "Tomb Raider" movies or supernaturally trippy as in "Wanted."

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But what Jolie is called upon to do grows increasingly difficult to accept, even for summer escapism. Stunts that would result in serious injury or even death to the average person are nothing for Salt. She jumps off an overpass and onto a moving 18-wheeler, then onto a tanker truck, then onto another semi before landing on the windshield of a cab, stealing a motorcycle and zipping away. She leaps from a moving subway train onto a platform, rolls and just gets up and runs. She gets shot and places a maxi-pad on the wound.

Yes, she's supposed to be a highly trained undercover operative — whether she's working for the United States or Russia — but this is ridiculous and even laughable when, in theory, we're supposed to be engrossed.

Salt's identity first comes into question while she's interrogating a Russian defector (Daniel Olbrychski) who tells of sleeper cells that have infiltrated the U.S., made up of spies who've been indoctrinated since childhood. One of them is on a mission to kill the Russian president during a visit to New York. The person's name: Evelyn Salt.

Naturally, when Salt flees, it makes her look a little guilty. Her associate and good friend Ted Winters (Liev Schreiber, solid in everything) wants to believe she's innocent, but the counterintelligence agent on the case (Chiwetel Ejiofor in a largely one-note role) immediately mistrusts her and sends out the big guns to bring her down.

It would be easier to care about her motives and her fate if she were fleshed out even a little bit more. As it is, Salt is all business. We don't know how she truly feels about her husband, who's crucial to a couple of scenes, and we never know how she feels about the many acts of violence she commits over a short time — some of them questionable, many of them deadly.

It's easy to figure out what Salt is. But who is she? That's a question the film never really seemed interested in answering.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Female action heroes

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  1. I spy

    Not too many women play action heroes, but Angelina Jolie has done it more than once. She plays Evelyn Salt in 2010's "Salt." She's a CIA officer who goes on the run when a defector accuses her of being a Russian sleeper spy. (Columbia Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Name of the game

    Video games are legendary for not translating well to the big screen. Jolie took on the genre twice, with "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" in 2001 and "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life" in 2003. (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Mama bear

    Sigourney Weaver was one of the earliest female action heroes, playing Ellen Ripley in the "Alien" series. The first movie, "Alien," came out in 1979. Ripley really came into her own when she discovered a little girl, Newt, who'd been orphaned by the alien attack and defended her as she and the Colonial Marines fought their way off the planet. Carrie Henn, who played Newt, had never acted before or since. (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. She'll be back

    Linda Hamilton was one of the first buffed-up female action heroes, showing off her muscles when she played Sarah Connor in 1984's "The Terminator." Connor's son, John, is famously predicted to lead the humans against the Terminator killing machines, so they send Arnold Schwarzenegger back through time to kill her before she can ever give birth. (Orion Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Bloody Bride

    Uma Thurman plays The Bride in "Kill Bill," Quentin Tarantino's two-movie series from 2003 and 2004. After being nearly killed while pregnant at her wedding, she takes her bloody revenge. (Miramax Films) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Back in black

    Carrie-Anne Moss played deadly computer hacker Trinity in 1999's "The Matrix." The movie became known for its acrobatic, slow-motion stunts, while Moss' character became known for her unusual first name and all-black leather wardrobe. (Warner Bros.) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. 20th century fox

    Pam Grier played an early black female action hero in 1974's "Foxy Brown," as a woman who seeks bloody revenge when her boyfriend is shot. (American International Pictures via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Help me, Obi-wan Kenobi

    She may have famously asked Ben Kenobi for help, but Princess Leia Organa could also stand on her own two feet. Carrie Fisher played the princess and rebel leader in 1977's "Star Wars" and its sequels. (20th Century Fox via Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Back to the future

    Jane Fonda played the title character in 1968's "Barbarella," directed by her then-husband, Roger Vadim. The band Duran Duran took their name from the film's mad scientist, Dr. Durand-Durand. (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Going under

    Kate Beckinsale plays Selene, a vampire warrior, in 2003's "Underworld" and its sequel 2006's "Underworld: Evolution." In the film, Beckinsale's vampires battle the brutal Lycans, or werewolves. (Columbia Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Here, kitty kitty

    There are fewer women superheroes and supervillains than men, but Halle Berry took on a stand-alone "Catwoman" film in 2004. The film appeared on Roger Ebert's list of his most-hated films. It won four Razzie Awards, including worst picture and worst actress, in 2005. (Warner Bros.) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Taking aim

    Anne Parillaud plays convicted felon Nikita, a French criminal recruited to work as a government assassin, in 1990's "La Femme Nikita." A TV series based on the film ran for five seasons on the USA Network, and the CW is reportedly working on another version of the series. (MGM) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Now they work for me

    Lucy Liu, Drew Barrymore and Cameron Diaz took on the roles of Alex, Dylan and Natalie in 2000's "Charlie's Angels" and 2003's sequel, "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle." The movies were inspired by the original ABC TV series, but 1970s icons Jill, Kelly and Sabrina wouldn't even recognize them. (Columbia Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Enter the dragon

    Zhang Ziyi as Jen, all but flew through the air in the martial-arts classic "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," released in 2000. The film helped boost the popularity of Chinese films, specifically, the genre known as "wuxia," which features the adventures of martial artists in ancient China. (Sony Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. I dare you

    Ben Affleck played the title role in 2003's superhero flick "Daredevil," but Jennifer Garner saw some action of her own as his love interest, Elektra. She earned her own spinoff film in 2005. Her weapon of choice is a pair of Sai, traditional Okinawan daggers. (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Now you see her, now you don't

    Jessica Alba played Sue Storm, the Invisible Woman, in 2005's "Fantastic Four" and 2007's sequel, "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer." (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Go ask Alice

    Milla Jovovich plays Alice in 2002's "Resident Evil," based on the horror video game series. She and police officer Matt attempt to fight off a horde of zombies in a futuristic and bleak land. She returns in 2004's "Resident Evil: Apocalypse," 2007's "Resident Evil: Extinction," and 2010's "Resident Evil: Afterlife." (Screen Gems) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Columbia Pictures
    Above: Slideshow (17) Female action heroes
  2. Image: UNHCR's special envoy actress Angelina Jolie smiles as she meets with Syrian refugees in the Bekaa Valley
    A.McConell / UNHCR via Reuters
    Slideshow (79) Angelina Jolie

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