Salt
Directed by Phillip Noyce
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action
1 hr., 39 min.

No one could have predicted it at the time, but The Bourne Identity has quietly become one of the most influential movies of the last decade — not only in style, but also in substance. What made the 2001 Matt Damon actioner such a masterpiece was its sharp, thought-provoking, conspiratorial premise welded to realistically choreographed fight and chase sequences (and, of course, a lead actor that pulled off both). While Bourne went on to spawn two more successful sequels, its impact was most clearly felt in the revival of the James Bond franchise and nearly every action film that followed it.

Which leads audiences to the latest Angelina Jolie starrer, Salt, a film that tries so mightily to convince theatergoers to forget the original Bourne, that it ultimately sinks under its own weight. It’s unfortunate to have to make that assessment, because there are plenty of great moments in Salt that make it worth the price of admission. The plot is just so obviously disjointed — alternating between treacherously thin and ludicrously over-the-top — that it taints the impeccable performance given by Jolie.

To be sure, Jolie earned her $20 million dollar paycheck by portraying a Russian super-spy torn between a checkered past and a new, promising life. She is probably the only working actress in Hollywood today (or probably ever) that could pull off the freakishly superhuman stunts demanded of her character and yet somehow ground (some of) them in reality. While actresses like Charlize Theron (Aeon Flux), Jennifer Garner (Elektra), Halle Berry (Die Another Day) and others have tried and failed to create believable female action heroes, Jolie is entirely convincing on this front, which puts her in very select company (maybe Hilary Swank makes the category also).

But, unfortunately, a movie has to have a plot, and Salt seems to have much more in common with another early-00s action thriller than The Bourne Identity. I’m talking about the already-forgotten final entry (until it’s “rebooted”) in the Jack Ryan franchise: The Sum of All Fears starring Ben Affleck at the height of his powers. That title had Affleck running around trying to stave off a Nazi plot to instigate nuclear war between Russia and the United States. As the nuclear clock winds down and both countries are mobilizing their weapons, Affleck reveals the perpetrators, and Armageddon is averted.

Without spoiling the plot, Salt evolves in a much similar way except it adds the superagent-with-a-mysterious-identity angle that’s stripped right from Bourne. The plot twists keep it unpredictable for a little while (read: the good guys aren’t who they seem), but ultimately there are too many illogical sequences to truly care about a maniacal Russian plot to destroy the world. And it has the gall to cut the action far short (it’s only an hour and 40 minutes long) in order to plug a potential sequel.

All the ass-kicking bravado delivered by Jolie still can’t save a retrofitted script in desperate need of a few additional rewrites.    

erik@vcreporter.com