If we were in some strange me-niverse where my reaction to a moviewere all that mattered, nothing new would have released this week.
See, I saw Inception last week. They could follow that up withThe Departed 2: Citizen-Emperor Kane Strikes Back (Using Hobbitsand Aliens) and I would be like "Well, I liked the part where BillMurray woke up every day to crash-land on a desert planet only to beseduced by Anne Bancroft and terrorized by hideous albino cave people,and it was pretty sweet when the Dude blew them all up with thatnuclear bowling ball, but I still can't give this thing my fullrecommendation."
But exactly like pro athletes, except without the money, respect, orability to stay away from awful puns (English majors will recognizethis as foreshadowing, then return to their cardboard boxes), criticsmust have short memories. Yeah, I saw a great, great film lastweekend, but that was last weekend. Now it's back to the Saltmines.
When Russian defector Daniel Olbrychski comes to the CIA with intel,Angelina Jolie's assigned to the case. He tells her of a plot toassassinate the Russian president on U.S. soil — and that she will bethe assassin.
Concerned for her husband (it's common knowledge in these circles thatwhen an agent is outed, rightly or wrongly, their family's atimmediate risk), Jolie lights out, escaping from the CIA'sinterrogators. Soon, she finds herself entangled in a decades-oldSoviet conspiracy to take down the whole United States.
Which is a vague way of saying that tons of kooky business ensues, butSalt goes to such great lengths to obscure what's happening andJolie's specific role in this kookiness that I must remain equallyelusive. I extend this courtesy despite the fact Salt rudelyinsists we sit through 30 straight minutes of car chases and TombRaider-delivered beatdowns before it begins to clue us in towhat's going on.
It's awfully hard to care about Jolie's plight when we don't know whatside she's on or if the threat is even real. I worried for hercharacter the same way I worry about world hunger or that bag of peasin my fridge that was once frozen but is now leaking brown sludge allover the crisper: a moment of great concern followed by a swift butpainless drop into apathy, with the occasional flash of "Why isn'tsomeone doing something about this? Whatever."
Honestly, I don't like being manipulated by a movie. Check that — Idon't like being manipulated in a way that whacks me in the face.Salt keeps us in suspense by withholding information, thencarefully doles out flashbacks when we need a prod towardcomprehension.
Even once it gets around to clueing us in, it's a paradox of thetremendously outlandish and hugely predictable. Granted,predictability is an overrated flaw. I can predict that when I pop myshirt off, the crowd is going to faint with delight, and that doesn'tmake the spectacle any less awesome. But director Phillip Noyce'sattempts to mislead us end up as transparent as his early efforts toconceal things from us.
Still, his action scenes are competent enough, and Jolie's a prettydecent actor. This keeps Salt afloat just long enough for it toplow full steam into the Ocean of Crazydom.
As the plot grows wilder and wilder, expanding the stakes from Jolie'sfreedom to the life of the Russian president to the continuedexistence of the United States itself, the fun blows up with it. Iwouldn't have been surprised if it turned out everyone was actually analien agent with plans to grind up all humanity into space-dog food.
Salt is too slick and a little too skilled to classify as "sobad it's good." File it under "keep your brain in your pocket anddon't worry if you miss the first half."