Thursday, July 22, 2010

"Salt" (2010)

Starring Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor
Written by Kurt Wimmer
Directed by Philip Noyce

You'll note up above that I typed "Written by Kurt Wimmer."  This is misleading, since I don't believe anyone actually "wrote" the new Angelina Jolie spy-actioner "Salt."  No, what I think actually happened was that someone said, "Dude, y'know what'd be kinda awesome?  If Angelina Jolie was like, a spy or an assassin or something."

Someone else replies, "I think I saw that one.  She like, can shoot bullets in circles or some shit."

"Yeah, dude," the first guy replies.  "That was cool.  We should make a movie like that, only... I dunno, like with more action."

"What about the story?" some poor third person overhearing this pathetic conversation chimes in.

"The whatnow?" the first two guys say, in unison.

There's ostensibly a "story" to "Salt."  I could explain it to you, fully and in detail, in two sentences.  One, if I decide not to care about grammar.

Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) is a spy for the CIA.  Years earlier, she was caught and tortured by the North Korean government.  Intervention by her future husband, a scientist who studies spiders named Michael, saves her life.  In the present day, a man walks into the CIA claiming to have information about a Russian sleeper agent that will attempt to kill the Russian president as he attends the funeral of the United States' vice president.  Who is this agent?  Evelyn Salt, of course.  Determined to prove her innocence and save the life of her possibly-endangered husband, Salt busts out of CIA custody.

What follows is essentially a series of chase sequences and fights as we follow Salt to New York City and then back to Washington DC, culminating in an assault on the White House.  The action sequences aren't particularly lengthy, but they are numerous.  Instead of blowing its wad on a few large sequences, "Salt" is content to pepper smaller ones throughout the entire film at a fairly even pace - Action sequence, moment to catch your breath, action sequence, moment, action sequence, etc.  Along the way, we are repeatedly told exactly how dangerous Salt is, and then we get to see her being dangerous.

Of course, about fifteen or twenty minutes into this nonsense, you'll probably care as little as I did.  Jolie gets about ten lines of dialogue in the entire movie.  She spends the entire time running, punching, shooting, running again, walking quickly, running some more, walking slowly, running yet again... I wish I could recommend "Salt" even as a brainless action thriller, but there's simply not enough fun.  I chuckled a few times at how ludicrous things were getting, but for the most part I watched this movie waiting for something cool to happen. 

Jolie is a credible action star, but her character is so slight it's hard to give a shit when she gets punched, kicked or shot.  Director Noyce doesn't allow us to really watch her in all her glory, either.  Too many of the fights are lost in shaky cameras shots and quick edits.  It doesn't get as bad as, say, the second Jason Bourne movie, but the fights give one the idea that there's something cool going on, if only you could actually see it.

Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor, usually fun, charismatic performers, are lifeless here, repeating the same dialogue in slight variations over and over again.  There are no characters in this film, there are bare skeletons of people that just sort of walk around doing things and getting punched or shot.  The two sentences of plot, which I won't even bother to spoil for you, aren't even all that great.  There's a kernel of a good idea here, and the ending leaves it wide open for a sequel that has the potential to go in awesome places.

But that one good idea is all there is to "Salt."  In the end, this is just sort of an origin story; a pilot episode for further adventures.   But will anyone really want to watch it?  I don't know.  I'd be hard pressed to drum up any enthusiasm for it before I saw a trailer.  Now that I'm thinking about it, the whole thing seems better suited for a weekly television series ala "Alias" than a movie every few years.  At least a TV show has room to grow quickly, and a poor pilot can be forgiven if the weeks closely following it pick up the slack.  But "Salt" isn't a TV show.  If a sequel is made, we won't see it until likely sometime in 2012, and I'll be long past caring.