It was bound to happen. After decades of male domination in the action movie realm – from Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger to Bruce Willis and Tom Cruise – it was only a matter of time before a woman entered the fray and tried to create a character with as much style and staying power as James Bond and Jason Bourne. Well, who better to take a stab at crashing the boys club than Angelina Jolie? She's had some training, having walked a few miles in Indiana Jones' shoes as that sexy, intrepid tomb raider, Lara Croft, and kicked the skinny butts of both current squeeze Brad Pitt in 'Mr. & Mrs. Smith' and James McAvoy in 'Wanted.' And let's face it, it doesn't hurt that she's arguably the most beautiful woman on the planet. So why not make the leap and measure her moxie against the big boys' egos and biceps? Flex those lips, Angelina, and show those macho men who's the boss!
Jolie walks the walk pretty damn well in Phillip Noyce's by-the-numbers 'Salt,' but has trouble talking the talk, thanks to a thankless screenplay by Kurt Wimmer (who asserted himself much better with the sleek, elegant 'Thomas Crown Affair' remake) that relies too heavily on action movie clichés and predictable plot twists. Though few actresses look as comfortable brandishing a weapon or engaging in hand-to-hand combat than Jolie, whose steely-eyed glare and feline agility make her a natural for this rough-and-tumble genre, her physical prowess can only take her so far. She may kick, punch, and fire away at the bad guys with ease, but can't overcome the clunky story and superhuman stunts that relentlessly sabotage her at every turn. If she (or the producers) hoped to spawn a franchise, I don't think they'll get their wish, because 'Salt' just doesn't possess the cachet that has distinguished other breakout formulas.
Evelyn Salt (Jolie) is a CIA operative who's fingered by a defector as a double agent intent on assassinating the Russian president, an act that would severely jeopardize U.S. security. Salt vehemently denies the charge, yet realizes her husband (August Diehl) could be a government target. In typical Hollywood fashion, she escapes the CIA's tight net and army of pursuers – led by Agent Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber) – and tries desperately to find and shelter him. Such a path, however, plunges her deeper into a web of violence, espionage, and double crosses that makes us question her patriotism and motives. The requisite array of twists and turns, flashbacks and ambiguity, along with a series of over-the-top action sequences, keep the plot's engine churning, but it's all still rather dull. No matter how hard the filmmakers strive to ramp up tension and action, 'Salt' remains largely a one-note affair, lacking the emotional highs and lows necessary to fully engage the audience and suspend our disbelief.
Noyce, who was forging quite a promising career with such relevant and weighty films as 'The Quiet American' and 'Rabbit-Proof Fence,' takes a step backward with his first "big studio" picture in many years. Though his style remains classy and he makes the most of what he's given, the material just isn’t up to snuff. Noyce fashions some indelible images, but they're only memorable as snapshots, not key elements belonging to a greater whole. And while it's intriguing to see Jolie don a series of different guises to elude detection (the most outlandish – and creepy – of which is a male military officer), it's hard not to view her various looks as one big gimmick.
And then there are all those stunts. You gotta hand it to Jolie for having the guts to perform as many death-defying acts as she could, but the lion's share are so unrealistic they inspire not admiration but rather jaded head-shaking and cynical chuckles. Salt isn't supposed to be Spider-Woman (though her husband is an arachnologist and she carries one of his deadly specimens around with her, so who knows?!), but she certainly acts like her most of the time, leaping from a series of highway overpasses onto a succession of tractor-trailers, swooping multiple times across an elevator shaft, and emerging unscathed from a barrage of brutal collisions and confrontations. Unless she possesses the same instantaneous healing powers as Wolverine, it's impossible to explain her resiliency.
Jolie gives the role her all, yet despite her considerable talent and physical attributes, the character isn't interesting enough to sufficiently carry the film, let alone inspire a series of sequels. The first-rate supporting cast doesn't fare any better. Schreiber looks bored most of the time, and who can blame him? Add to that the fact that this Blu-ray includes two alternate versions of the film (an unrated director's cut and unrated extended cut) and it's pretty obvious no one involved with the production really had much of a clue as to how this assemblage of action scenes should turn out.
'Salt' is an enjoyable enough ride for fans of the genre, but it could use some pepper to spice itself up. Its preposterous plot ultimately turns silly, and the indestructible title character becomes more robotic as the film progresses. Though Jolie tries her best to break into the action movie boys club, I don't think she'll be getting a bid to that exclusive fraternity anytime soon.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Salt' comes packaged in a standard Blu-ray case. Upon insertion of the BD-50 dual-layer disc, a Sony promo, trailers for 'The Tourist' and 'The Green Hornet,' along with teasers for 'Takers' and 'Easy A', precede the main menu, which is full-motion and accompanied by music. If your player is connected to the internet, a series of links will scroll by in the upper right-hand corner of the screen that pertain to various Sony releases, including 'Salt.'
A film like 'Salt' should leap off the screen and thrust its audience into the thick of the action, but unfortunately, the 'Salt' transfer also could use a bit more seasoning. The 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC effort from Columbia doesn't look bad by any means, but doesn't offer the kind of in-your-face high-def pop the best action movies often provide. No specks or scratches muck up the pristine source material, which features just enough grain to preserve a film-like feel. Contrast, however, seems a tad muted, which contributes to the movie's flat look, as does the rather wan color palette. Hues rarely achieve the vibrant levels we crave, which, in turn, saps some energy from this high voltage picture.
Yet at times, clarity can be stunning. Shards of glass are marvelously distinct, and close-ups often sport a fair degree of dimensionality. (All the creases and textures of Jolie's trademark lips are sharply rendered.) Black levels fall within normal parameters, but don't quite exhibit the hoped for inkiness, and fleshtones always look natural. Background and shadow details are both impressive, and heavy patterns resist shimmering. Some digital noise creeps into solid objects, most notably the sky, but no banding or edge enhancement could be detected.
All in all, this is a serviceable transfer that's easy on the eyes, but it's hardly demo material and just doesn't stimulate the senses. For my high-def dollar, I want more.
Though it starts off slow, the 'Salt' audio steadily builds until it becomes an impressive, dynamic aural display. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track consistently fires on all cylinders, supplying a heavy dose of surround effects that immerses us in the on-screen action. Gunfire and explosions possess appropriate zing and heft, crisply darting across the speakers and employing a healthy amount of bass. Low-end frequencies, such as a subway train and motorcycle, rumble with authority, but never overwhelm or feel artificial. Stereo separation up front is also first rate, widening the sound field and adding welcome dimension to both atmospherics and conversations. And despite a cacophony of competing elements during the intense action sequences, the sound remains balanced and distinct. Even the most bombastic moments resist distortion.
Dialogue is always clear and comprehendible, and James Newton Howard's pulsating score exhibits marvelous power and nuance. In the end, 'Salt' delivers on the audio end, but that's about the only aspect of this film that satisfies.
A solid array of supplements adorn the disc, including several Blu-ray exclusives (see below). Often, it seems the weaker the film, the greater amount of extras the studio tacks on to entice consumers. Yet what's presented here still can't mask the movie's mediocrity.
'Salt' is surprisingly bland, despite some exciting action scenes and the sexy panache of Angelina Jolie. Its predictable, preposterous story defies logic, as does the heroine's superhuman ability to withstand a barrage of blows and perform an array of fantastical stunts. The audio edges the video in terms of quality, and a hefty supplemental package gives us far more information about the film than we need or desire. As a mindless rental, 'Salt' does its job, but unlike the title character, it doesn't go above and beyond.