Tough Action Lacks Narrative Bite
By T.T. Stern-Enzi
Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) is not at all what she seems, and in this supposed action-thriller by Philip Noyce, audiences are served up an undercooked piece that is overburdened with random sprinklings of spice that fail to satisfy more discriminating tastes. It is possibly telling to note that Salt, with its double agent agenda full of blatantly obvious misdirection, was initially a starring vehicle for Tom Cruise, who suffered through his own action-adventure misfire earlier this summer in Knight & Day (a fast food version of the marginally meatier Jolie starrer Mr. & Mrs. Smith). Hollywood seems to believe that blockbuster recipes only require substituting an ingredient or two. After a quick switch in the studio pantry, the marketers got busy pitching Salt as a new franchise, referring to its heroine as “a female Bourne” and eagerly exploiting our familiarity with Jolie as a tough and meaty action-oriented babe. And she is definitely game, running off screens and gunning from distance like Ray Allen versus the LA Lakers. The only problem is that like Allen, who really only had one phenomenal game for the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals, Jolie can’t pull this off alone.It’s not like she has to though since Salt also features a pair of strong supporting players – Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor – who, along with Jolie, seem to be in search of a film to match their burning intensities. They would never be mistaken for a “Big Three” type of combination that has become the latest fashion in the NBA, but Jolie, Schreiber and Ejiofor are capable of generating sufficient heat, plus there’s the presence of director Phillip Noyce who, while not a genre genius or auteur-level director, has proven adept at delivering the goods, in terms of both action (Clear and Present Danger, The Bone Collector with Jolie) and storytelling (Rabbit-Proof Fence, The Quiet American).So what went wrong (besides my own gourmet sports mixed metaphors)?I lay the blame on writer Kurt Wimmer, the wild spice that makes the whole affair less than palatable. His obsession with dark and conflicted anti-heroes has run amok and failed to offer any new and/or significant insights. As a screenwriter his variations on this theme have resulted in Equilibrium, The Recruit, Ultraviolet and Street Kings. None of these films successfully resolved his twisted vision, which means that we have had to bear with him as he continues to work out his issues onscreen. And now Salt is placed before us, yet another hapless attempt at subverting good and evil/light versus darkness in the soul, and the world of espionage should be the perfect setting. But such a treat needs to hold a hint of surprise to tease us. Much like Knight & Day, Salt is a one-note dish that left me cold.
Salt can be seen at Rave The Greene 14, Rave Dayton South and more
Reach DCP film critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at firstname.lastname@example.org