‘Who is Salt?’ asks the poster’s tagline. ‘Who cares?’ should be the reply. Phillip Noyce’s espionage caper, starring Angelina Jolie at her most proficient and humourless, has been dubbed a ‘Bourne with boobs’. But compared to that groundbreaking franchise, which blended action and emotion in equal measure, Salt feels like a faded facsimile desperately in need of direction.
After a prologue in North Korea, where CIA officer Evelyn Salt (Jolie) is rescued by her boss Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber) following a stint in prison, the story begins when a Russian spymaster Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) walks into a CIA outpost and outs Salt as an undercover Russian agent. What’s more, he claims the Russian President will be assassinated when he attends the funeral of the late US Vice-President in Washington.
Cue much consternation, alarm bells ringing (literally) and a major lockdown as Salt doesn’t stick around to protest her innocence. What follows is an adrenaline-fuelled chase movie, as Jolie runs, jumps and kicks her way from one scene to the next, frequently escaping the clutches of her pursuers by a hair’s breadth in what feels like a cross between the Road Runner cartoons and Run Lola Run. Still, nothing she does is any more ridiculous than Kurt Law Abiding Citizen Wimmer’s script resurrecting Cold War-era Russians as the villains.
Like a plot from a discarded James Bond movie, the film revolves around Day X, the moment when an army of undetected Russian moles – all raised, trained and planted by Orlov – will rise up in the US to cause chaos. Whether Salt is a part of this or not is what drives Noyce’s thriller, complicated by her feelings for her husband (August Diehl), a German scientist who studies spiders for a living (even, laughably, in North Korea).
The problem is not this ambiguity that powers the plot. It’s not even that Jolie can’t do action: from her Lara Croft adventures to her last espionage outing Wanted, she’s more than capable of a little butt-kicking. Likewise Noyce, be it in Patriot Games or Clear and Present Danger, has been here before. It’s just that both have also done it better in the past. Salt is spice for only the blandest of tastes.
General release from Fri 20 Aug.