Originally intended as a vehicle for Tom Cruise Salt was shelved and then given an impromptu sex change operation to ready the way for Angelina Jolie to headline the shoot ’em up. When your leading man becomes a leading lady the original script by Kurt Wimmer (Ultraviolet , Street Kings) had to be rewritten by Brian Helgeland (Conspiracy Theory, Assassins, Man on Fire), and director Philip Noyce (The Bone Collector, Clear and Present Danger) was tasked to make it all work. That’s an awful lot of time and effort to put into a project well before shooting was scheduled to begin. Too bad it wasn’t worth it.
Angelina Jolie stars as CIA Agent Evelyn Salt, a fugitive on the run after being accused, by the questionalbe word of a dying former Russian spy (Daniel Olbrychski ), of being part of a top secret Russian sleeper cell doomsday scenario more than three decades in the making.
Jolie looks great on the run, dodging bullets and causing a massive amount of collateral damage all over the D.C. area. As to why she runs (or does anything in the film), no one really knows – not even our heroine. From Salt’s initial choice to run to her final gambit before the credits roll, nothing makes any sense. I’m guessing Joyce figured this out early in filming and that’s why the movie seems to endlessly pump pure adrenaline and action into a story that has nothing else going for it.
The script is a mess. It’s mainly concerned with muddying the waters as to Salt’s true identity and allegiances rather than even attempt to construct or tell anything resembling a coherent story. It seems everyone involved in this project has thrown in with the recent Hollywood adage that logic isn’t needed when pace can be effective. Throw in an unnecessary brutal opening sequence and several semi-rational plot twists and you’ve got all the active ingredients for a total trainwreck. Although it’s not boring, at it’s core it’s a hollow tease with pieces from several different puzzles scattered together. No matter how you try to piece Salt together the only thing you’ll end up with is a headache.
One of the reasons Jolie worked so well in Mr. and Mrs. Smith is that film understood how ridiculous it’s premise was and had some fun along the way. In Salt we’re stuck with a premise ten times less believable and yet everyone is playing it straight. The writing simply isn’t good enough for the dramatic moments to work effectively or the twists to do anything other than distance you from caring about the main character. It’s as if the writer of one of Steven Seagal’s straight-to-DVD film decided to write his own Bourne Identity, but with a woman instead. Jason Bourne might have been a cipher, but we still cared about him and wanted to see him uncover the truth which alluded him. The same can’t be said for Evelyn Salt.
Although the acting isn’t bad it’s largely forgetable. Jolie takes most of the hits as the plot continually attempts to redraw her character how it sees fit in any particular scene. If the script can’t decide who Salt is at her core how are we to expect Jolie to do any better? Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor play well off each other in their chase of Salt, but it never leads anywhere (at least nowhere good).
In a role that would seem to call for her to be beefed up Jolie is surprisingly trimmed down. Although this works for her torture scenes early on it doesn’t help sell her as someone who could physically dominant several top agents twice her size, all with similiar training. There are several scenes in which Salt is bruised and bleeding, yet none of these ailments show up after each scene has passed. In fact by the next action sequence she’s moving full-speed and giving 110%. Either she has a remarkable mutant healing ability or someone’s got some explaining to do.
It’s amazing how little sense this film makes. I’m sure plenty some will give it a pass under the excuse action movies don’t have to make any sense to be good. And even with more than it’s share of problems the film isn’t all bad. It’s an incompetent mess, but it’s not awful. But until audiences start demanding better this level of mediocrity, overflowing with adreniline but lacking any brains, this marginal effort is the best we’re going to get. If you want you want Bourne watch Bourne; Salt does nothing to add any new flavors to a dish that’s already grown cold.