Friday, July 23, 2010

Salt, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Like Angelina Jolie.

Director: Phillip Noyce
Script: Kurt Wimmer
Starring: Angelina Jolie (‘Wanted’), Liev Schreiber (‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’) August Diehl (‘Inglorious Basterds’), Daniel Olbrychski (lots of foreign films), Chiwetel Ejiofor (‘2012’)
Run-Time: 100 minutes
Release Date: Friday, July 23rd, 2010
Rating: PG-13

I’m not sure when it started, or why, but I really don’t like Angelina Jolie. It may have something to do with my abhorrence of the movie adaptation of Mark Millar’s ‘Wanted.’ Bad news for me, because this week’s Thursday Night Midnight Showing came down to Jolie’s ‘Salt’ and Ms. Selena Gomez’s ‘Ramona and Beezus.’ I found myself torn between staying home and playing the copy of ‘Dark Void’ I got for ten dollars or keeping up with tradition and seeing one of these two movies, neither of which I was tremendously excited for. I opted for ‘Salt’ because I still haven’t forgiven Beverly Cleary for never writing ‘Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret II: Blood Feud.’ So with a can of NOS coursing through my veins and my expectations set to zero, I took my usual seat in the back row next to my ever-present companion Patrick and prepared for the worst.

Back to our movie. It begins with the first flashback of many, establishing that Jolie’s character, the eponymous Evelyn Salt is an agent for the CIA, and fairly good at her job. Her skill set is varied, setting up a reasonable explanation for all the kick-assery that will follow in the next one hundred minutes or so. Seriously, Salt is would make MacGyver blush with her ability to fashion plot devices out of everyday household items.

After the introductory flashback, we are returned to the present just in time for Evelyn and Mike Krause (Diehl), her creepy German Nationalist husband’s anniversary. The work day is almost over and Salt is ready to go home, drink some champagne, and have sex with the lights off when a Russian defector (Olbrychski) shows up. She and her close friend and confidant Ted (Shrieber) decide to have a word with the man. A long, expository tale about a Hogwarts School for Child Spies and political assassinations follows, ending with the man telling the CIA that a Russian spy named Evelyn Salt is going to kill the Russian President at the American Vice-President’s funeral. Salt’s like “lolwut” and then things get a little crazy and proceed as such from there, growing more and more ridiculous, from her escape from the CIA’s cover building in Washington, DC all the way to New York City, and back, culminating in a fairly intense showdown in an underground bunker beneath the White House. All the while she is pursued by Ted and another CIA agent, Peabody (Ejiofor), each on opposite ends of the “Totally a Spy” spectrum.

The real question through-out for both the characters and the audience is simple: Is she who the Russian defector is or isn’t she? From the moment we get our answer, a bloody swath is cut all the way through to the end of the film, with all the twists and turns befitting of a political thriller. The movie is delightfully clever at times, from an excellent use of Chekov’s Spider to Schreiber’s show-stealing exchange with the National Security Advisor to a fairly original murder technique. At one point, even, I had images of ‘Dr. Strangelove’ dancing through my head. Mutually assured destruction is always a terrific endgame plot device. By the time the credits rolled, I felt that Ange’ and I had worked out some of our differences. I’m still bitter about how awful ‘Wanted’ was, but she shouldn’t have to shoulder all the blame for that.

Considering I had no expectations, I was pleasantly surprised that ‘Salt’ was not only watchable, but at times downright enjoyable. Nobody will win any Oscars, but I don’t regret the $7.50 I spent on it. If you’re a fan of topsy-turvy political action thrillers or just like watching the guy from ‘Scream’ yell at people, ‘Salt’ is not the worst way to spend a hundred minutes of your time.

Oh, and to Beverly Cleary, if you’re reading this, I’m still waiting.

Fun Fact: Did you know the script had originally been written for Tom Cruise? I spent a lot of the movie replacing Angelina Jolie with Tom Cruise while leaving the rest of the movie in context, with an end result of hilarity. Give it a try!

Trailer Pick of the Week: 'Devil'

I’d like to mention the trailer for ‘Devil,’ as it played before 'Salt.' From the get-go, I was intrigued, primarily because I had no idea what the hell was going on. Some people, including the guy who ate all the mushrooms in ‘Super Troopers’ that gets to have sex with Christina ‘Those Things Are Enormous’ Hendricks, are stuck on an elevator and stuff starts to get weird. As the trailer progressed, I became more and more excited. Then, ‘From M. Night Shyamalan’ appeared on the screen. An audible groan arose from the audience, but not me! I see this movie as a beacon of hope for Shyamalan, a return to form even. ‘Unbreakable’ is an amazing film, and if ‘Devil’ ends up half as good as ‘Unbreakable’ it will be head and shoulders above everything that followed. After the crowd finished its collective groan, I announced, “The twist is it’s going to be good!” Spoiler alert. I hope. We'll find out September 17th. Update: (Incidentally, he only came up with the story and is producing. Other people are writing and directing.)

So that was 'Salt,' and also my first movie review, and also my first real entry on this blog. Lemme know what you think! There's plenty more to come, including a new movie review every Friday. Next Friday: 'Dinner for Schmucks', staring Paul Rudd and Steve Carell.

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