August, 2010, Action



Discerning the quality of Hollywood’s output of releases between the Memorial  and Labor Day weekends is a big like trying to pick peppercorns out of mice droppings - - the work is laborious and the rewards minimal. Even in the best of years, the summer months produce far too little of quality and 2010 will go down in my record books as one of the industry’s all-time worst track records.  All that by way of saying that Philip Noyce, (the Australian director of such solid action fare as Patriot Games (1992) Clear & Present Danger (1994) and The Bone Collector (1999) along with the achingly beautiful Rabbit Proof Fence (2002) manages in Salt, his latest film, to deliver what may turn out  to be the best of this season’s destruct-o-ramas , those mow’em down,  blow-‘em up, wipe-em’out action melodramas high on technical virtuosity but painfully low  on anything cinematically memorable.

Salt does have the quintessential asset required of  warm-weather blockbuster - - a credible hero, which in this case turns out to be Angelina Jolie, whose lean frame and bulbous  lips are paired with martial  arts and  small arms weapons skills sufficient to serve as the entire defense needs of a small country. She’s a CIA operative whose release from a North Korean prison allows her to marry a German entomologist whose handiwork features prominently in one of the more outlandish elements of the movie’s plot. Preternaturally fluent is any number of languages, lethal with numerous body parts (not to mention those megawatt come-hither eyes) and the physical durability of a charging rhino, Ms. Jolie charges through Salt’s plot twists with complete aplomb, dropping onto the roofs of speeding trucks, dropping out of helicopters and surviving car wrecks that would decimate mere mortals…all without so much as a smudge of mascara or lipstick.

Indeed,  the star is not only a focal point of this film, she’s the focal point of everything in it; there are almost no other female characters and those few are present  in such minor, mainly non-speaking roles in the film they could easily be  replaced by mechanical devices.  Not since James Coburn’s Derek Flint took on a cabal of women conspiring to rule the world, (In Like Flint, 1967) has one gender stood alone against a phalanx of opposition consisting solely of members of the opposite sex. Liev Schriber and Chiwetel Ejiofor provide the male support/opposition to Jolie’s dewy-eyed agent, whose name provides the movie’s title.

Noyce has made nearly two dozen films and television dramas in his career and he knows how to keep the pace of this type of material at the right level, injecting the next bit of mayhem at precisely the point an audience might start questioning the storyline’s plausibility - - and screenwriter Kurt Wimmer provides an above-par plot twist which helps propel the plot to a climax as preposterous as it is visually exciting. Most significantly,  Wimmer & Noyce fashion an ending that nearly screams “sequel”, which given Jolie’s box office clout, will surely please at least Hollywood’s studio executives.


The Verdict? If you’re a fan on action fans, this one’s made to order - - for those with more refined cinematic tastes, wait for better pickings this fall.

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