So who is Salt? Or more specifically, Who is Evelyn Salt?

You might as well be asking who is Jason Bourne? Yeah, well Salt is kind of like Bourne. Grim, driven, and unbeatable. And totally  humorless.   She’s also Mata Hari mixed with MacGuyver. And to top it all off,  she’s someone who will look you right in the eye before blowing your brains out.

Salt never met a vehicle she couldn’t operate – cars, vans, and motorcycles? No problem. She’s adept at making a bomb out of household cleaning agents, and when called for, she can mix up a delightful cocktail using spider’s venom. She’s all girl, and all killer.

Salt never saw a building she couldn’t escape from or break into. These include several very famous buildings – like the White House in Washington DC, and St. Bartholomew’s Church on Park Avenue in New York. Despite getting herself captured and placed into the custody of the CIA, or the FBI, or even the NYC Police, this never seemed to be a problem.  It was never a question of will she escape. Instead it was more like, how quickly will she escape.

So who or what is Salt? It is a preposterous new action thriller that opened today. Directed by Phillip Noyce (The Patriots Game) and starring Angelina Jolie and Liev Schreiber, this thriller rushes along its 100 minutes in break-neck fashion. You either hurtle through the air with Jolie in a vehicle, or watch her leap from one moving vehicle to another, or simply watch her defy gravity with some parkour moves that might seem better suited to Tony Jaa (Ong-Bak) or one of the District 13 films.

Evelyn Salt may be a Russian spy, then again she may not be. We are told she was trained since childhood in one of the schools the Russians used to operate. You know the kind – the kind that would make a Russian more American than most Americans.  What was the line used in the film …” Idioms, idiosyncrasy, and ideaology”. By the way, the idea of such a school seemed like a lift from novelist Nelson DeMille’s The Charm School .  The truth of this bit of fancy, is she or is she not the spy/assassin contains many, many twists and turns. No one is quite what they appear to be – but isn’t this the case in every spy thriller?

If nothing else, this film is filled with thrilling action set pieces. Lethal weapons like grenades and powerful automatic hand guns find their way into Salt’s hands as easily as you or I picking up a cell phone.  But Noyce went a little too fast on the editing console. The hand-to-hand combat whizzes by so fast, you really don’t see the punches hitting the target’s body. Instead you see the bodies flying.

Then you are Evelyn Salt - the Russian spy...

The script has holes-a-plenty. The most egregious is when the Vice President of the United States is being laid to rest in a funeral service in the aforementioned St. Bart’s. We see the crowds gathered in the streets, we see a massive amount of security measures by the Secret Service, the FBI, and the NYC Police Force. We see Salt flitting here and there in the crowd watching the arrival of the Russian President, who comes to pay his respects, along with his own security detail.

Right after that is when we then see Salt on the Lexington Avenue subway train arriving at the 51st Street station. Which made no sense at all as we had already seen her on the street outside the church. Which made no sense at all as we had already seen her in her hotel room (The Waldorf Astoria Hotel is right next door to St.Barts) looking down at the church.

We’ll get to the acting in a minute, but before that, Jolie’s looks are present and accounted for. She can turn heads as well as snap your neck (literally – not figuratively), but the production has almost shut down her sex appeal so they could amp up her talents as a kick-ass  femme-fatale. She doesn’t snap off any one-liners, and she certainly knows how to play at being tough. I think she did a great job at convincing us to ignore her looks and to pay attention to those hooks and jabs she could deal out. Liev Schreiber, is once more a character you’ll admire for a while even though he doesn’t get the girl. That’s why they call it acting. In my view the honors must go to Chiwetel Ejiofor as CIA Agent Peabody who is out to capture Jolie’s rogue Agent Salt. He’s not only good in every scene he’s in, but he more than steals a few of his scenes. If you watch carefully, you’ll notice TV veteran actor Andre Braugher in a short cameo as the Secretary of Defense.

But without hammering away at the plot holes, the less than credible twists and turns, and the fact that it was the Russians  (whatever happened to glasnost and perestroika) as the opposition rather than aliens, a drug cartel, or Al Quaeda, the film is still exciting.  As the film ended, people were kind of surprised, because there was that the open-ended finish which leaves you with the question of – will there be a sequel in 2012 or 2013? As we filed out, the audience was kind of quiet – not the kind of silence you have when a film stinks, or not the eerie glumness when a dramatic movie leaves you kind of beaten up emotionally. No this was more like … huh? Did you like it? I’m not sure.

Me? I’m sure that the film will satisfy the action fans, and disappoint those expecting a more cerebral spy thriller. Which leaves me somewhere in between those camps. As in what was that … ?


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