July 22 2010 12:00 AM

Angelina gets a high-impact workout as a spy on the run in ‘Salt’

67735_ori.jpgIf you’ve never understood the appeal of Angelina Jolie,
“Salt” may be required viewing. It’s a vehicle designed to show off its star in
all her glory, and director Philip Noyce and director of photography Robert
Elswit are obviously die-hard fans of their leading lady, who puts in overtime
here to earn her paycheck (which was reportedly $20 million).

Jolie has never been one to try to get by on a pretty face
and some sex appeal. Like Susan Sarandon, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Pfeiffer
and other beauties of the previous generation, she knows you need more than
just good looks to carry a movie. Jolie’s spellbinding, swimming pool-deep eyes
let us know she always has something cooking in her kitchen, and it’s usually
worth waiting for.

In addition, the woman practically sweats charisma — and she
has plenty of reasons to sweat throughout “Salt.”

Kurt Wimmer’s sinuous screenplay is an unapologetic knockoff
of “The Bourne Identity” and its sequels, with Jolie as Evelyn Salt, a CIA
operative who masquerades as an oil company executive (the none-too-subtle
message is that the petroleum giants essentially run the government anyhow).
It’s a tough way to make a living: When we first see Salt, she’s being tortured
by nefarious North Koreans who, for unknown reasons, have forced her to strip
down to her underwear.

No wonder Salt is jostling for a desk job at the agency and
hoping to spend more time with her German-born husband (August Diehl). However,
her plans for an easier life are destroyed when a would-be Russian defector
(Daniel Olbrychski) claims Salt is actually a sleeper agent trained by the
Soviets during her childhood and sent to the U.S. to infiltrate intelligence
agencies and set in motion “Day X,” a chain of events that will decimate
America and brings the Soviets back to power.

Salt scoffs at the accusations, but her co-workers aren’t
laughing — nobody even makes an obvious crack about the Strategic Arms
Limitation Talks — and in no time
at all, she’s running for her life, with her sympathetic but duty-minded boss,
Ted Winter (Live Schreiber), leading the pursuit. Thankfully, Salt is as
imaginative and resourceful as MacGyver used to be, donning disguises with the
greatest of ease and, when necessary, creating an ersatz flamethrower out of
cleaning products and a plastic tube.

As soon as Salt goes on the lam, logic takes a vacation. In
one scene, we witness Salt stealing a fur hat from a street vendor. Seconds
later, we notice she somehow managed to make off with the elegant, fur-trimmed
cape that goes with it; she must have dropped by Bergdorf Goodman’s sidewalk

At another point, Salt has to play a game of
Frogger-in-reverse, leaping from the roof of one moving truck to another while
evading Winter and his cold-blooded rival, Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor). The
sequence is ridiculous, but that doesn’t make it any less exciting, and that’s
the trump card here: Even though the story is far-fetched almost from beginning
to end, the combination of Noyce’s no-nonsense direction and Jolie’s feistiness
is hard to resist. “Salt” operates in the same realm as most of the James Bond
adventures (there’s even a knife concealed inside the toe of a shoe, a la “From
Russia With Love”) and, if you’re willing to indefinitely suspend your
disbelief, it’s furiously paced fun.

Jolie also has a fascinating rapport with Schreiber, an
asset the movie doesn’t completely capitalize on. Not only are they both
imposing, magnetic presences, their distinctive, seductive voices complement
each other superbly. “Salt” may be that rare action movie in which you find
yourself wishing there were more dialogue scenes, if only to give us more time
to watch the interplay of these arresting actors. Alas, Salt has other
obligations, like saving civilization; a super-spy’s work is never done.