If Angelina Jolie were an element on the periodic table, she would be positively atomic. Her bold, authoritative, svelte physical prowess sets off Richter scales, making the bad seem badass. Such is the case of Phillip Noyce’s Salt, a banal, humorless action thriller that’s intermittingly enlivened by Jolie’s quintessential ferocity. The plot, hokum which would have felt antiquated even if it had been actually set during the Cold War, has Jolie’s C.I.A. agent Evelyn Salt evading capture after she’s accused of being a sleeper agent for the Russians and gunning not just for the Russian president but also for our own Commander in Chief—who, in the film’s only moment of surprise, is revealed to not be Ronald Reagan.
From a funeral engagement for the Vice President of the United States to the White House’s underground bunker (pimped out 24-style, natch), the film mostly exists to make a spectacle of a foxy momma’s Jack Bauer-meets-MacGyver sense of ingenuity—to blow our minds by having Salt impregnate seemingly impregnable spaces, then have us snap-snap-snap as she dons a ushanka for a misty-aired ride on the Staten Island Ferry. As in Wanted, fashion meets action, and while Jolie doesn’t exactly relish this recycled role, she busts a few superhuman moves with undeniable aplomb, contriving at one point—and in a split-second’s notice—cinema’s most insane strangling.
Because Noyce mercifully doesn’t purple-fy Salt’s backstory, we’re spared another guttersnipping bad time a la The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but Salt still wants for some kind of emotional catharsis. (Whoever Salt is, her motivations are as murkily conveyed as her romance with her missing husband is awkwardly shoehorned into the story via a series of half-hearted flashbacks.) This is, in part, because the last-act reveal necessitates the audience know as little about Salt as possible—or is that Noyce simply doesn’t give a damn? Even without a sense of human feeling, the film could have still soared. If it doesn’t, it’s because Noyce, unlike Timur Bekmambetov before him, doesn’t meet his star halfway. Rather than move and cut to her asphyxiating rhythm (like Tom Tykwer once did to Franka Potente), he simply keeps out of her way. The dully choreographed Salt, finally, is nothing but a vision of an actress dancing by herself.