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Salt

Missing Ingredients

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

The words “absurd,” “ludicrous,” and “ridiculous” all accurately described Tom Cruise’s latest attempt to invigorate his fading brand, Knight and Day. They’re just as accurate in describing Salt, an espionage action-thriller starring Angelina Jolie, but with one, key difference: Knight and Day played on (and with) genre conventions for comic effect. Salt plays it unapologetically straight, all the way through the unsurprising, third-act reversals, reveals, betrayals, and a sequel-ready ending that promises the title character’s return if moviegoers make Salt a box-office hit.

Originally intended for Tom Cruise (it was then titled Edwin A. Salt), who stepped away due to schedule conflicts, Salt was rewritten for Jolie. Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) works for the CIA as part of the agency’s Russia House division. She’s married to a German national, Michael Krause (August Diehl), an arachnologist she met on a North Korean mission two years earlier. Back in Washington, D.C., Salt works at Rink Petroleum, a CIA front, alongside a longtime friend, Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber).

Minutes away from leaving work to meet Michael for an anniversary dinner, a Russian national, Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski), appears at Rink Petroleum, claiming he has knowledge about a potential plot to kill the visiting the Russian president. During the interrogation, he tells a seemingly preposterous story about Russian sleeper agents (perfect timing, given recent events) and a CIA mole named Evelyn Salt. While CIA agents escort Orlov away, a counter-terrorism agent, Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor), decides to hold Salt until they can clear her name. Unable to reach Michael and suspecting foul play, Salt escapes.

From there, Salt goes into Bourne-mode, with Salt imitating Bourne’s moves as she climbs outside her apartment building, attempting to evade Winter, Peabody, and a well-armed squad of federal agents. There’s even an extended foot chase that will remind moviegoers of the YouTube compilation of Tom Cruise’s greatest running scenes (he’s better than Jolie). As Salt evades capture, then decides to go on the offense, the movie gets increasingly implausible, if unsurprisingly unpredictable.

With Philip Noyce, a two-time director of the Jack Ryan franchise (Clear and Present Danger, Patriot Games), working from Kurt Wimmer’s (Law Abiding Citizen, The Recruit) credulity-breaking screenplay, Salt moves rapidly, barely leaving enough time to make sense of the preposterous plot (a good thing, maybe), inserting obligatory action scenes at regular intervals.

The action scenes usually involve a variation of Salt attempting to escape or standing to fight, heavily emphasizing close quarters gunplay and hand-to-hand combat (Jolie acquits herself well there, as expected). They’re also, thankfully, directed with a steady hand (no Paul Greengrass vérité-influenced shaky cam), always seriously — or as seriously as Noyce could get with a PG-13 rating.

Ultimately, Salt’s irony-free approach will be refreshing to some moviegoers, but too dark, humorless, and violent for others. Still, there’s no denying that the camera still loves Jolie, and the Bourne-influenced, stunt-heavy scenes — shot with a thankfully steady hand — are enough to carry most moviegoers through Salt’s 95-minute running time.