Last time I reviewed a film that featured the name Kurt Wimmer as screenwriter it was for the awful Law Abiding Citizen. I made mention that he’s spent way too much time watching other people’s movies. History seems to be repeating itself now with another generic action rip-off, Salt. This time dragging along seasoned action/thriller director Phillip Noyce (The Bone Collector, The Saint, Clear and Present Danger, Sliver, Patriot Games, Dead Calm) we get a sense that even he has seen one too many movies to come up with anything original.
Ripping off in overload we see scenes stolen directly from everything including The Manchurian Candidate remake to The Fugitive, The Matrix Reloaded, and the Bourne trilogy. All this wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t so blatant. And the script isn’t completely to blame when Noyce even uses a lot of the same camera angles and exact situations from the films he’s chosen to rip off. But if by the end of the movie you don’t expect to find U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones) walking into the middle of the final shot then you’re probably the film’s key demographic.
The premise is simple enough: We first meet Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) repeatedly denying being a spy while being interrogated in North Korea with a title card announcing this is “Two Years Ago.” She is released back into U.S. custody as part of a trade and taken home to where we learn she really is a C.I.A. operative posing as an employee of Rink Petroleum. While Salt may just want to learn how to fold a sexy dinner napkin for her anniversary, a walk-in Russian defector has just arrived and is in need of interrogation.
Salt agrees before she goes home but not before all hell breaks loose as defector Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) informs her that a Russian mole will be attempting to kill the Russian President while he is attending the funeral of the U.S. Vice President. Orlov also informs Salt, along with fellow agents Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber) listening in, that Salt is the Russian mole. To clear her innocence she goes on the lam using all her superpowers, err… skills, to elude capture and try to clear her name and find her gone-missing husband, arachnologist Mike (August Diehl).
At one point she is in a quick escape from her apartment and grabs her dog and one spider. If you can’t guess why she’d ever grab a spider in such a rush (we later see her extracting its venom and there’s an assassination subplot to get to) then this film’s for you. Narrow escapes are one thing but this film goes all out and even has Salt blasting her way through a wall with a machine gun. Big dumb fun is one thing but it must always remember to be fun. This film is just excessively heavy on the dumb. It’s almost as if Wimmer originally wrote the script as an action spoof but forgot to tell Noyce, who takes all of the material way too seriously for anyone’s good.
Originally planned as a summer vehicle for Tom Cruise who thankfully passed in favor of the far better Knight and Day, the script was rewritten to suit Angelina Jolie. It’s been said that Cruise passed because he felt that it was too much like his Ethan Hunt character but after having sat through the film I can surely say that he more than likely passed on account of the script just being so bland. There’s nothing here we haven’t seen a million times and sometimes that can still be okay when the direction isn’t so workmanlike and pedestrian.
Whether Salt really is a Russian mole or not, who cares within 45 minutes of runtime? When your film is only halfway over and no one cares anymore, you have a huge problem, even though Salt is so resilient that she can go from hiding from security cameras with a pair of panties to building a homemade rocket launcher from whatever elements she has in her immediate vicinity. Moreover, in this day and age a subplot about Russians wanting to gain control of the U.S.’s atomic weapons just comes across as incredibly silly and outdated. Where’s James Bond, Ethan Hunt or even Jason Bourne when you need them? What you should do this weekend is skimp on the Salt and go see Inception instead. Whether for the first time or a repeat viewing, at least Christopher Nolan earns your entrance fee.
Photo courtesy Columbia Pictures