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This action star isn't worth her 'Salt'

POSTED: July 21, 2010 3:41 p.m.

I love a really good spy story. Hopefully I’ll get to see another one someday soon.

“Salt” presents itself as a spy movie, but underneath that disguise it’s a mindless summer action movie. And underneath that layer of subterfuge, it’s just another shoot ’em up star vehicle for Angelina Jolie.

Jolie plays Evelyn Salt. When we meet the character, she is being interrogated by North Korean soldiers who believe she’s a spy. She denies that accusation despite being tortured, which is apparently supposed to establish her loyalty to the U.S.

Her husband Mike (August Diehl) manages to win her release, and we jump forward several months to when Salt is back on the job as a CIA agent. One day a Russian man (Daniel Olbrychski) enters Salt’s branch seemingly out of the blue in order to defect. With her CIA supervisor Ted Winter (Live Schreiber) and a counterintelligence agent named Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) listening in, the man accuses Salt of being a Russian spy, instantly casting suspicion on her.

Salt goes on the run, launching the movie into one chase after another. Winter believes she is innocent, while Peabody is convinced she is a traitor. Meanwhile, we’re left to wonder — is she running to protect her husband or to carry out a mission for the Russians?

Or as the tagline puts it, Who is Salt?

If only the movie were as interesting as the tagline.

The buzz around “Salt” has been that it’s a female version of a Jason Bourne movie, but that’s an insult to the Bourne franchise. “Salt” is more like “Aeon Flux” or “Lara Croft” than “The Bourne Identity.”

Salt displays supernatural abilities to inflict carnage and take abuse, just like a quasi-superhero. She does things like jump off a speeding subway car and fight scores of supposedly well-trained secret service agents without so much as smearing her lipstick.

The movie possesses none of the smarts or old-school flair of the Bourne movies or of any good spy movie, and there are few believable moments in all of “Salt.” An example: In order to escape during a highway chase, Salt stops a speeding motorcycle by merely grabbing the handlebars. Bike stops in its tracks, rider goes flying through the air, Salt hops on.

The only reason to see “Salt” is to watch Jolie kick ass. If you expect anything more than that, you will certainly find less.

We indeed might have expected more from director Philip Noyce (“Patriot Games,” “Clear and Present Danger”), but it seems he was handcuffed by Kurt Wimmer’s (“Ultraviolet,” “Law Abiding Citizen”) lame script.

“Salt” is interesting on one level, though. When a bad guy occasionally manages to land a blow on Angelina, the fact that she is a woman doesn’t matter in the least. Jolie has achieved complete equality with male action stars.

But in the grand scheme, is this an accomplishment? It’s great that Jolie is as tough as Matt Damon or her husband, but when that empowerment is used in service of such lousy movies, what’s the point? Has she merely proven that women can scowl their way through stupid action movies, too?

On the other hand, “Salt” stands apart from other Jolie star vehicles because it doesn’t show off her body. Let’s be honest, one of the reasons men go to her movies is to see some gratuitous shots of Jolie as a sexpot. But at no point in “Salt” does Jolie remove clothing. No sex scenes or hot showers here, fellas. She doesn’t even wear a sexy dress as a disguise.

I guess we can call that progress.

Jolie is a tremendous actress whose action star persona, which once helped boost her into the stratosphere of fame, is beginning to work against her. I’m looking forward to the day when she becomes incapable of stunts and has to go back to relying strictly on her ample acting abilities.

Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.


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