Saturday, August 7, 2010

Movie: Salt

I'm going to switch things up a bit and let you know right at the beginning of this review that I hope you do not spend money to see Salt. If you have Netflix, you can give it a shot after it releases on DVD, or maybe swallow a $1 at Redbox. I had movie cash from a previous purchase, so I saw it for free, and I still feel ripped off. From top to bottom, the movie is just nonsensical in the worst ways, trying to throw the audience a bone by not insulting their intelligence with too much exposition, and then failing in the exact opposite way and not offering enough. People behave like - this must be my new catchphrase or something - they are in a movie, and their actions have no consequences. Actually, now that I think about it, that's how people behave in reality, too. The plot is preposterous, and I literally found myself throwing up my hands in exasperation a half dozen times during my viewing, at a loss for how anyone involved in the production thought what just happened on screen was the best idea.

I'm not a big believer in the "turn your brain off" popcorn action movie, as I think it justifies shoddy film-making all too often in favor of explosions and over the top sets (See: Bay, Michael). It's possible some will try to justify Salt as one of these movies, but even that's a stretch. What's baffling is that from my chair, the talent on hand should be more than enough to render the final product far superior. I thought Angelina Jolie was a lot of fun doing an action movie in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and she's not bad here either. Kurt Wimmer wrote the screenplay, but his list of credits is more of a mixed bag for me - he is responsible for both Law Abiding Citizen (which I liked up until the reveal) and Equilibrium (which I really enjoyed). In a way, it seems his writing is just getting worse. Phillip Noyce, who helmed movies I enjoyed such as The Saint and Clear and Present Danger, must have been asleep in his chair to allow the movie to end up like this. At this point, you must be wondering - what's so bad about it?

Within 10 minutes, the plot has been laid out. Over the previous decades, a secret Russian outfit of unclear affiliation has been brainwashing kids to be sleeper agents in America. The kids speak perfect English, know its history, and are just like anyone else when they grow up, until they are activated. A Russian defector walks into the CIA office and exclaims that one of these agents is going to assassinate the Russian President at the funeral for America's Vice President. After describing the previously mentioned brainwashing process, he gives the name of the supposed spy - which happens to be the name of Jolie's character. The rest of the film details the reaction to this accusation, the revelation(!) that she is a spy, and what the next move for her is. This was where I started dropping my jaw in total awe of the silliness. One would think that the CIA, of all places, would have the most thorough background check known to man, but they are infiltrated by a Russian spy, simply because she doesn't know she's a spy?

We've all seen movies in which cops and other agents of authority are portrayed as pretty weak, undisciplined patsies that can't put up a fight. This movie goes one step further and exclaims with all its bravado that the highest levels of criminal justice, CIA ops and Secret Service agents, are just as stupid and ill-equipped to handle just about anything.

There is no other explanation for why the supposedly top cops in the world can't catch a single woman who was inside their own secured building at the time of the accusal. It makes zero sense how a CIA agent could get away and not be tracked at all. These decisions and more - such as when Jolie is put in a squad car to be taken to a holding cell after infiltrating a high-profile, mega-secured state funeral - are used to advance the narrative, but at what price? How stupid do these guys think I am?

I feel I can rightly blame the director for another total failure, that of convincing me as a viewer that Jolie's relationship with her husband is the root cause of her eventual actions during the conclusion. The pair are seen on screen together for maybe 60 seconds in total, and apparently flashbacks of happy smiles and silly married-people talk is supposed to be enough to make me believe that they are a couple. Jolie and her co-star, German actor August Diehl (probably best known for Inglorious Basterds), have no chemistry. There just isn't any time to find any. Her motivation, then, is suspect if only because I just don't believe she would do the things she does because of him.

Liev Schreiber (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (2012, Serenity) do a good job, and I was shocked to see an incredibly short appearance by Andre Braugher (Men of a Certain Age, Homicide: Life on the Street) as the Secretary of Defense. I think he had a handful of words to say before he died. I can't forgive the film makers for wasting such an amazing actor in that part. And why do people insist on Ejiofor using an American accent? His native English twang is far more enjoyable.

There is some good action to be found here, but it's wrapped in such utter nonsense that it can't make up for all of the script's shortcomings. Pass on this.