Let's face it, from Tomb Raider (2001) to Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005) to Wanted (2008), Angelina Jolie has always delivered in her high-octane action adventures, and Salt is no exception. This espionage thriller about a Russian mole strategically planted in the U.S. couldn't be more timely, given the recent arrest of Anna Chapman, the flamboyant NYC realtor deported after confessing to being a Soviet spy.
Art imitates life in this political potboiler revolving around the exploits of Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie), an orphan programmed to kill by the KGB during her childhood. After the Cold War, she emigrated from Moscow to America where she successfully infiltrated the CIA without arousing any suspicions.
At the point of departure, we learn courtesy of flashback that Evelyn is so tough that she never cracked while being water-boarded and beaten by interrogators who disbelieved her claims that she was in North Korea on business. She was subsequently freed only after her fiancé, Michael (August Diehl), pressured the CIA into making a prisoner exchange.
Fast-forward to the present where we find the couple settled down in Washington, DC and planning to celebrate their wedding anniversary. With her cover blown, Evelyn now has a quiet desk job at the Agency, while her arachnologist husband has just published a book about spiders.
But their state of marital bliss is irreversibly altered the day a Russian defector (Daniel Olbrychski) walks into CIA headquarters announcing that he wants to spill the beans about an elaborate plan to destroy the United States that is about to be hatched. He is questioned rather reluctantly by a cynical Agent Salt with help from a couple of equally-skeptical colleagues, Winter (Liev Schreiber) and Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor).
However, everyone takes Mr. Orlov seriously when he passes a lie detector test and starts sharing some startling information about the existence of a sleeper cell of Manchurian Candidates led by an assassin named Evelyn Salt. At this juncture, the outed double-agent asserts her innocence before bolting from the heavily-fortified building in the first of a series of death-defying escapes.
The chase is on, although it remains unclear whether Evelyn is on the run to clear her name or to follow orders from the Kremlin. As much as it' s intriguing, painstakingly-established premise might sound like a cross of The Fugitive (1993) and No Way Out (1987), the balance of Salt unfolds less like a cerebral mindbender than an implausible display of acrobatic stunts dependent on patently-preposterous, cartoon physics.
Nonetheless, this bombastic, bells-and-whistles spectacular featuring a fetching, two-fisted femme fatale offers precisely the sort of riveting roller coaster ride that amounts to a very welcome diversion in the midst of a sizzling, summer heat wave.
Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence and intense action sequences.
In English and Russian with subtitles.
Running time: 99 Minutes
Distributor: Columbia Pictures