Salt (2010)

(In theaters, July 2010) There is something both successful and not quite satisfying in this Cold War espionage thriller throwback.  The straightforward revival of Russians sleeper agents as antagonists in Salt is amusing (even more so given recent news items seemingly custom-made to market the movie), whereas the good old suspense mechanics of assassinations and chases are competently handled.  After The Recruit and Law Abiding Citizen, screenwriter Kurt Wimmer is quickly becoming a reference for thrillers with just enough twists to be interesting, whereas director Phillip Noyce is good but not great as an action director.  (Sadly, the post-Bourne editing is often too frantic to be effective: There’s one over-the-shoulder shot of the heroine jumping down from one vehicle to another that would have been gripping as a one-shot, but is stupidly cut in two by a meaningless insert.)  As for the actors, the three lead characters seem ready to play according to type: Angelina Jolie as the capable action heroine no matter the hairstyle, Chiwetel Ejiofor as the stand-up guy you can depend on, and Liev Schreiber as the one you can’t completely trust.  In terms of pacing, Salt’s forward rhythm is undermined by unexplainable lapses: What should have been a full-speed-ahead action spectacular is slowed down by moody pauses and too-lengthy flashbacks that approach parody at times.  Preposterous plot problems can be forgiven in the name of pure thrills, which is fortunate given how the cheats become bigger and bigger as the film moves in its final act.  When it works, Salt is pure summer entertainment, going back to solid stunts rather than an overuse of CGI.  It’s fun rather than ambitious, solid rather than innovative, and just insane enough to make something palatable from Cold War plot elements we thought dead and buried.  Expect a sequel.

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