Salt (2010 movie) review…

Salt (2010 movie) review after the break…

Salt (2010 movie) review…

Some movie directors know exactly what they want out of their movie and shoot it that way. Other directors “find” their movie in the editing room, much like a chainsaw artist “finds” a chair by carving up a sizable tree trunk or an ice sculptor reducing a huge block of ice into the statue of a swan. Finally, a few unlucky directors “find” their movie through poor test screenings and numerous re-shoots.

“Salt” is a 2010 movie starring Angelina Jolie as a maybe-deep cover Soviet (yup, that’s not a misprint) spy meant to be activated during a dreaded operation called “Day X” – A plan for the Soviet Union to destroy America. When an informant “outs” her (not sexually, mind you, just her supposed cover) during a sudden interrogation, all bets are off and she has to evade the authorities. Is she the spy or not? Hmmm…

I’m about to spoil this movie so if you really don’t want to know, here’s the spoiler-free synopsis: An OK action movie with an increasingly preposterous hook. Given how the movie ends (and, thematically, it doesn’t end very well), it should have downsized the main plot to build up to something. If you have time to waste, don’t let me stop you. If you’re looking for the next “Jason Bourne” film… Keep looking.

Time for the spoilers.

“Salt” had a troubled history even before the first scene was shot. The gender of the protagonist was changed, leading to some considerable changes in the script. After all, it defies a bit of credibility for Jolie to act the same as Matt Damon’s “Jason Bourne” – Sure, women can train to be just as strong as the men but how many women do you know who can beat up the guys (And not just any guys but guys trained to beat up other guys) like Damon could beat up the guys? Usually, this means that the ladies have to channel their innermost Bruce Lee to compensate. While an unusually high degree of kung-fu will certainly make a difference in some cases… It just doesn’t look believable. It reminds me of the Bruce Willis / Asian Chick scene from “Live Free or Die Hard” (aka “Die Hard 4.0”) where I kept constantly thinking to myself as the battle ensued, “This shouldn’t be a contest.” While Bruce Willis may no longer pass as a college sophomore, he’s certainly no flyweight and the real-world problem with strength is that, once it’s applied upon you, there’s not much that can be done. Reality, to be blunt, is not a staged Bruce Lee fight.

Another one of Salt’s problems is an old B-movie action stand-by: The overly-intricate Soviet secret project. Honestly, no wonder these guys lost the Cold War. If only they had devoted more time towards the development of conventional weaponry, perhaps they’d still be around. However, in the land of B-movies, they always find the time (and the money and the resources) to commission these bizarro super-secret projects that have a nil to no chance of actually being successful. In this case, they bred a bunch of secret-agent children to infiltrate the United States, become members of our federal agencies and military all so that, one fateful day, they can initiate the dreaded “Day X” and bring about the end of America. Really? Personally, I would’ve devoted a bit more time towards transportation and energy infrastructure to increase production yields and help the economy… But if you guys want the super-secret training facility for a plan that’ll take an entire generation before you see any tangible results at all…

And that leads to another huge flaw in the super-secret project: Puberty. Seriously, did anyone account for these kids to go through puberty? I don’t care how “well-trained,” “super-trained” & “secretly-trained” these kids are – Puberty is a drug that derails all kids… ALL KIDS! How many bright, young, happy secret Soviet spies discover the opposite (or, as the case might be, the same) gender and, all of a sudden, all of those intricate plans go right out the window? The 8-year old who liked electronics is now the 14-year old who only wants to play electric guitar. The 9-year old who wanted to be in the military is now the 15-year old taking steroids and trying to fight his way onto the football team so he can get a lucrative contract.

And what would happen to these kids if their intricate plans for infiltrating the military and the CIA and the FBI and the whatnot are never fulfilled? Would someone have shot and killed them?

I could write until arthritis overtook me about how many flaws are in this super-secret Soviet program that is at the heart of this movie but there’s no point to doing that. The point is that without a believable premise, your movie is built upon a foundation of sand (or salt, if we want to delve into snark). What made the Jason Bourne premise a bit more believable was that they were young adults who were molded into highly-trained killers, not 7-year olds. The audience can believe that young adults can be highly trained and disciplined because they know enough where such training and discipline can get them… But kids?

“Salt” isn’t just troubled at it’s core premise but, ultimately, it’s ending as well. There are 3 distinct versions of this movie – The theatrical one, the extended one and the director’s cut. These are not minor variants from one another, the difference between an R-rated blood spurting out of a wound to a PG-13 antiseptic tiny hole in the chest. In two cases, “Salt” ends definitively while only in the theatrical version is it “open-ended” enough to spawn into a franchise, a la “Jason Bourne.” Apparently, the producers felt like audiences wanted more “salt” in their diet. While the middling box office returns might quash that desire (It’s doubtful they’d be able to convince the high-priced Jolie back for another round), the open-ended conclusion wasn’t exactly made gracefully. With Salt running through the woods, there was no ending. It’s just her running through the woods and then… Credits. Thanks for money, folks. Exits are in front and behind you.

Admittedly, the ending of “The Bourne Ultimatum,” with Bourne swimming out of a river might be seen as a comparable to Salt’s ending but that’s not the case – It’s a clever book-end to a trilogy where we are first introduced to that character having been thrown overboard. With Salt, all we get is a wet woman running through a forest and… That’s it.

I’m surprised that one possible angle, that Jolie wasn’t the “real” Evelyn Salt and that she replaced the real Salt, wasn’t explored more fully. What happened to the real “Salt”? Was she killed in the automobile accident? Did she live? If she lives, is it a normal life? Now that could’ve been a premise – Evelyn Salt, successful spy, suddenly begins to doubt her past. All that hypno-psycho-whatever the Soviets did to her unravels and, as a result, the CIA and the Russians (and even Soviet sympathizers) are after her – The CIA to discover what she truly knows, the Russians to keep her from squealing and the Soviets to re-engage her for this silly “Day X” plan that might bring them back into power. Along the way, she finds the grave or meets the real Evelyn Salt while on the road to self-discovery. The end of the trilogy could’ve been a “Day X” operation, a culmination of the trilogy.

This brings me to my final grievance – Even if there is a sequel… What more could be done? The first movie has an attack upon the White House in a botched attempt at “Day X.” Where do you go from there? An attack upon Earth?

With an AAA-budget movie, you can’t make a complaint about lighting or props or action scenes or anything like that. If you spend enough money, your movie is going to look like it belongs in a movie theater. “Salt” accomplishes that goal but looks aren’t everything; You need a compelling plot to go along with all the whiz-bang special effects and “Salt” doesn’t deliver on that premise.

“Salt” is sort of like analyzing one’s dream – It might’ve made sense when you were there but the more you think about it, the less rational it becomes. The movie is a time-waster to be certain but unless you are a die-hard “Jason Bourne” fan who needs their fix right now, your best bet is to fire up the DVD player and relive the memories. This “Salt” might not be bad for your blood pressure but there’s a lot better ways you could spend two hours.

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