Eugene Weekly : Movies : 7.29.10


Head Shaker
Salt leaves a bad taste
by Molly Templeton

SALT: Directed by Phillip Noyce. Written by Kurt Wimmer. Cinematography, Robert Elswit. Music, James Newton Howard. Editing, Stuart Baird, John Gilroy and Steven Kemper. Starring Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Daniel Olbrychski and August Diehl. Sony Pictures, 2010. PG-13. 100 minutes.

I should’ve had a notepad while watching Salt. I would’ve kept a running tally of every time I tried (and occasionally failed) to stifle my incredulous laughter at the bizarre, unconvincing plot unfolding onscreen. Scan the notebook page, explain the system, and my review is done — with about as much thought as went into writing this film. 

But since I didn’t think of this until too late, let me elaborate: Salt is a waste of many people’s time, but at least a few of them were likely well-paid for their efforts. Director Phillip Noyce’s shallow, insipid, dated action flick has just about two things going for it: One, Angelina Jolie kicking ass is always moderately entertaining, even if it’s hard not to roll your eyes as she takes down multiple armed men with the help of some seriously jumpy editing. Two, the movie co-stars Liev Schreiber, who could probably conjure up convincing chemistry with a lamppost under the right atmospheric conditions. Schreiber is Ted Winter, a colleague of Jolie’s Evelyn Salt, who is first seen in her underwear, being tortured by North Koreans. “I’m not a spy!” she moans, writhing. I was writhing, too — at the gratuitous stupidity of it all.

Salt, of course, is a spy. The supposedly big mystery — “Who is Salt?” asks the film’s poster, as if it’s unclear for long — is just a way to get into the film’s chunky, vapid heart, in which resides a long chase sequence in which men yell “There she is!” countless times; an absurd scene involving many cop cars and a Taser; the death of a nasty Russian by broken vodka bottle; plots to assassinate at least one country’s president; an impressively poorly thought-out trip down an elevator shaft; and hazy flashbacks to scenes of Salt and her bland arachnologist husband (August Diehl), all dragging behind James Newton Howard’s overbearing, generic score. 

Salt is the kind of movie where characters with exactly the same back-ground have Russian accents of differing strengths to indicate how Russian — and therefore evil, because this movie is like that — they are. It ends on an overwrought conversation that had me shaking my puny fists at the screen: None of this is in question, you morons! There’s an important guy in the White House who could just spell out what happened. But that would be too easy. Better to complicate something, anything; it’s the best way to prep for sequels, ain’t it?