“Salt” is the story of a CIA agent with an exemplary record who is accused by a mole of being a Russian spy, part of a cadre trained as children to infiltrate America by living normal lives until ordered into action. Angelina Jolie plays the title character, Evelyn Salt, bringing all of her Angelina Jolie-ness with her, for better and worse. She continues to explore the fearless action star stunt daredevil side she showed in the “Tomb Raider” movies and “Wanted” and the intensity of a wronged but fierce and fearless woman she showed in “The Changeling” and “A Mighty Heart.” And there’s the inevitability of her real tabloid-fodder life spilling over into the story as well, the wild child with her knives and Ã©pater le bourgeouis attitude evolving into the glowing madonna working tirelessly for the world’s children and happily devoted to her own highly photogenic six.
And so, when the movie opens, showing us Salt/Jolie being tortured by North Koreans, wearing nothing but her scanties, all of that comes along with whatever we are learning about her character. She is fierce and brave and will do anything it takes to protect her home. Once she is rescued, she holds it together until she sees who it was who insisted on getting her out, not the CIA, which has strict procedures for calculating the greater good, but her German boyfriend Mike (August Diehl), a scientist specializing in spiders.
Five years later, she has a desk job at a CIA cover organization and is getting ready to celebrate her wedding anniversary when a Russian guy shows up with an offer to provide information. He says that Salt is a Russian spy and is about to kill the Russian president (yes, I know that does not seem to make much sense). Her long-time colleague Ted (Liev Schreiber) believes she is telling the truth when she says she is loyal to America. But another official named Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) wants her investigated. Salt runs. It could be because she thinks Mike is in danger or because she does not trust Peabody. Or it could be that the Russian was right.
The chase and fight scenes are well staged, especially when Salt leaps across the tops of trucks as they race along a highway. But the absurdity of the plot is made even harder to accept because Jolie’s dignified diligence seems so out of step with the film’s tone. The Jolie of “Tomb Raider” and even “Gone in 60 Seconds” knew how to have fun on screen. But the wild child era is over, and even in film these days, Jolie seems to want to go for the gravitas. If so, this is the wrong movie.