In the past few months, billboards, TV spots and newspaper ads all asked the same question, who is Salt?
After watching the action thriller starring Angelina Jolie in the title role, the answer became disappointingly self-evident.
Salt is Lara Croft, Sarah Connor, La Femme Nikita, Mrs. Jane Smith and Ripley. Salt is John Rambo and Jason Bourne; when she fashioned a high-powered missile from home cleaning supplies and a revolving chair, Salt also became MacGuyver.
Kurt Wimmer’s original script about post-Cold War (did it really end?) espionage and subterfuge was first written with a male lead in mind, but quickly refashioned for a female substitute when Tom Cruise opted out of production.
It appears that the metamorphosis from Edwin to Evelyn Salt left many of the originally scripted characterizations intact. The resulting hodgepodge of personalities and lack of original composition in a bid to create a new Hollywood heroine failed to elevate Salt beyond contemporary cardboard clichés.
Admittedly, the action sequences are gravity-defying and exhilarating, if not executed with dazzling brilliance.
But if a film were merely comprised of a series of high-paced, adrenaline-packed sequences, movie-goers would be better off watching “Halo 2” or “Grand Theft Auto IV” on their gaming consoles.
“Salt’s” top-notch action stunts cannot compensate for the terrible script writing and the bewildering plot holes.
While the film’s idea is interesting, even engaging, it is hardly archetypal. Evelyn Salt is a CIA agent accused of being a Soviet uber-spy by a purported Russian defector. When he claims she is going to assassinate the Russian president in New York, Salt’s intelligence colleagues become suspicious and she takes flight in search of her husband Michael. She manages to evade capture and infiltrates a New York cathedral where the Russian president is attending a funeral.
“Salt” (like a majority of 2010 releases) suffers from the endemic disease that has plagued Hollywood in the past decade — lack of originality. This has led to overwhelming predictability; 15 minutes into the film, I knew who the head Soviet spy in the US was.
“Salt” builds on a theme first tackled in "The Experts" (1989), borrows from the basic premise of "The Manchurian Candidate" (1962) and adds a dash of conspiracy made famous by 1978’s "Boys from Brazil;" unsurprisingly, it also takes a swipe at the "Bourne Trilogy."
Even the name of the Russian villain in the film is borrowed from another rogue Soviet general in the James Bond film, "Octopussy."
The plot holes begin very early on. Why was Salt allowed to return to active duty after her cover with the North Koreans was blown? How did she manage to retain a high-level intelligence post despite failing her primary mission — to recruit Michael, a German arachnologist, who inexplicably is allowed to cross into North Korea to study spiders?
Instead, she marries Michael in what is supposedly a whirlwind romance. However, the viewer is not privy to the depth of their relationship because that plotline is never expanded; instead, it is only inferred that she was deeply devoted to her husband. Rather than elaborate on that relationship, which forms the backbone of the film’s central theme, the director substitutes flimsy innuendo built on flashbacks of a smile here, a "hello" there.
What is perhaps most annoying is the ridiculousness surrounding White House security. An East European liaison officer for NATO is able to strap a suicide belt packed with explosives, penetrate security scanners, and blow himself up within inches of the US president.
When Salt is unable to breach a bullet-proof war room deep below the White House, she finds a wiring conduit and blasts her way through. For real?
And Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski), a purported Russian defector, is able to escape from a highly secure CIA location, kill two operatives and run amok in Washington, DC, with nary a federal agent pursuing him.
Wimmer attempted to create an epic action film with an epic heroine but instead produced celluloid blandness raised to absurdity.