Directed by Phillip Noyce, written by Kurt Wimmer, 99 minutes, rated PG-13.
The new Angelina Jolie movie, “Salt,” stars Jolie as Evelyn Salt, a resourceful CIA agent who initially looks petite, blonde and pretty next to Liev Schreiber’s towering Ted Winter, a fellow agent, until her life takes a sudden turn for the worse.
And when that happens, she grows into a rampaging she-monster from hell who can’t be stopped, regardless of what you hurl her way. Not that anything is easy for her here. Salt has her work cut out for her in this movie, and Noyce is wise enough to show us the bloody toll it takes on his main character.
The story goes like this: While in the middle of an interrogation, Salt is called out as a Russian spy by the very Russian defector (Daniel Olbrychski) she’s questioning.
Cue the drama. Now on the run, Salt is forced to morph into a woman whose name also should have been allowed to morph, though into something with a bite. You know, like Patty Pepper Spray or Tammy Tobasco. Is there nothing that can stop this woman? Nothing that can take her down? Since Jolie has the lead, audiences know the answer.
Noyce based the film on Kurt Wimmer’s script, and what they’ve created is pleasantly absurd, the perfect summer throwaway that offers steam, heat and a seemingly bottomless taste for action. It’s a fun movie, so much so that you have to question the critics who are slamming it because they find it “ridiculous,” “cheesy,” “an action vehicle that moves fast but thinks slow.”
Oh, please. Will anyone be walking into this movie thinking they won’t have to suspend disbelief for the entire movie? That’s the film’s point, that’s what’s putting people into seats, and that’s what Noyce, Jolie and Schreiber deliver with aplomb.
And that they do so with aplomb is what makes the movie so good. Yes, this could have been a train wreck — we’ve all been to action movies that are so dull they make you want to reach for a noose and call it a life. But “Salt” is sleek and engaging, and the key reason for that is Jolie. She brought everything she had to this part, which mostly is physical as she does most of her own stunts. There’s no phoning it in with Jolie. What you see is what you get.
Add to the mix Chiwetel Ejiofor in a small, yet key role, as another of Salt’s colleagues and you have a movie peppered (sorry) with actors who know how to pull off a brisk movie that doesn’t lag.
As for the film’s ending, it’s an absolute setup for a sequel, and the good news is that there still is a story to tell here. Beyond the fact that Salt’s character is compelling enough to flesh out even further, who doesn’t want to see more of Jolie being the female equivalent of James Bond? Think that’s a stretch? When you see Jolie leap from bridges onto moving semis, or when you watch her rapidly scale an elevator shaft with no equipment other than her hands and feet, or when you see how she ingeniously gets a cop to drive with the help of a stun gun, there’s truth in that statement.
Jolie knows it, she owns it, and many who see it might want a bit more of it.
On DVD and Blu-ray disc
Several films and television shows are recommended on DVD and Blu-ray disc this week, including the third season of “Battlestar Galactica,” which makes its debut on Blu-ray. Joining it there is the definitive edition of the last James Bond movie “Quantum of Solace,” which offers new cast and crew commentaries, as well as behind-the-scenes content. If you’re into Bond, this one overcomes its bum title and risible theme song by offering audiences one of the most intense, satisfying Bond movies in years.
The fifth season of “The Closer,” with Kyra Sedgewick, and the excellent “How the Earth Changed History” highlight the week. The latter is especially worth seeking out as it deftly explores the genesis of its title. The fourth season of “Heroes” is on DVD and Blu-ray disc, and its recommendation is on the fence. There are some good episodes here — and some really mediocre ones. Still, the good does trump the bad, so it gets a passing recommendation.
For those who like their movies served dark, there’s Warner’s “Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. 5.” Like noir itself, the set is as distinctly American as jazz. The eight films collected here are urban and racy — the dialogue snaps, sex underscores the sleaze, blood soaks the pavements. All boil together in a fine collection, which includes such actors as Sal Mino and Susan Hayward, Virginia May and John Cassavetes.
For additional titles on Blu-ray, look for “Batman: Under the Red Hood” (also on DVD), Ang Lee’s terrific “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Life After People: Season Two” (also on DVD), the surprisingly well-done slasher flick “The Prowler,” “Rambo: The Complete Collector’s Set,” the Academy Award-nominated “A Prophet,” the 25th Anniversary Edition of “The Breakfast Club,” the special edition of the animated “James and the Giant Peach,” and Paul Newman and Tom Hanks in “The Road to Perdition.”
About that last movie — it’s a winner. Nominated for six Academy Awards, the film is a stylish, Depression-era drama that uses Irish-American mobsters to explore the sometimes-tumultuous relationships between fathers and sons. The film’s soul rests with Hanks’ Michael Sullivan, a mob lieutenant who fights to protect his son’s innocence after he witnesses Sullivan commit murder. With Jude Law perfectly sleazy as a greasy hit man and Newman as mob chief John Rooney, the film’s ending is predictable, but otherwise the film is smashing, a beautifully acted, gorgeous-looking movie that peels away and exposes another layer of the American experience.
Just to offer balance to the universe, several other films are to be avoided as you would avoid, say, parallel parking in downtown Bangor. You know, such films as “Puppet Master” or “Puppet Master: Axis of Evil,” two films that feature puppets that will cut you and kill you. Not exactly Fran and Ollie, and not exactly recommended for children — or other things that breathe and think.
Additional lowlights include “Screwballs II: Loose Screws,” which features a French teacher named Mona Lott who works at Cockswell Academy. Isn’t that clever? No, it isn’t. Neither is “Open House,” the risible “To Save a Life,” Tom Sizemore in “Splinter,” and Geena Davis in “Accidents Happen.”
Well, yes they do. And that movie is a fine reminder that accidents also can be avoided if you just skip the aforementioned movies.
WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and archive of movie reviews. Smith’s film reviews appear Fridays in Lifestyle, and his video movie previews appear Wednesdays in the Lifestyle section of bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.