What do you do when Steven Seagal is too fat, Jean-Claude Van Damme is too short and Dolph Lundgren too obscure to make your high-budget, early-90’s revivalist action movie? You hire Tom Cruise, of course. But then, when Tom Cruise actually reads the script, calls his lawyer and has him deliver your own balls back to you in a gift-wrapped bag, you bite the bullet and cast Angelina Jolie as the title character. And you end up with the movie "Salt."
You know, "Salt" wouldn’t have been so bad had it been produced in 1992, or released direct-to-DVD as one of the many under-appreciated sequels to "Under Siege." Unfortunately, the film’s modern setting, barebones plot and complete lack of character development really don’t help it transcend any of the glaring problems with the entire production.
First of all, the bad guys are Russians. Remember them? Sure you do – if you’re 40. Not only are they Russians, but they are top secret, deep cover Soviet sleeper agents trained since birth to unleash themselves on America and destroy capitalist society. Too bad the Soviet Union hasn’t existed for almost two decades, or that plot line would have worked really well. It’s almost like one of the producers found an old Robert Ludlum novel under the bed at his summer cottage and was like ‘this shit would make an awesome movie!” Yeah, it would – if you could hand out time machines to each and every audience member as they walked to their seats.
“Salt” doesn’t stop at archaic villains and long-forgotten geopolitical alignments, however. It also includes a hefty dose of the ridiculous when it comes to pacing and plot. In addition to being treated to the fake assassination of the Russian Prime Minister (using exotic spider venom), immediately afterwards the film radically shifts gears because it’s time to seize control of America’s entire nuclear arsenal. That’s right – Jolie’s character is simply handed that simple task in the most casual possible manner by a character who was introduced 30 seconds beforehand. If the intention was to shred any remaining credibility that the film’s story might have held, then the gambit was stunningly effective. If instead the audience was supposed to jump up from their seats and enthusiastically high-five their fellow theatre-goers, then I’m afraid it failed.
The remaining 40 minute conclusion to "Salt" adopts the standard blueprint that worked so well for low-budget action thrillers starring vaguely European martial arts masters until about 1995: lots of running, jumping, murder and mayhem culminating in a mano e mano battle between the flawed hero and the suddenly revealed plot twist mastermind. The trouble is, this film was made in 2010, so instead of Wesley Snipes fighting it out with Sylvester Stallone we get to see an aging Tomb Raider take on the really hairy guy from that shitty Wolverine movie. I assure you, that sounds way more exciting than it actually is.
"Salt" offers directors a very important action movie lesson: you can’t go home again. The only reason we liked those 90’s thrillers in the first place is because we didn’t know any better, and because they were awesome. And because they didn’t end with a shot of Angelina Jolie crawling out of a frozen lake and running through an empty forest. I can only assume that the director’s cut DVD will include a deleted scene where Tommy Lee Jones rises up from his wheelchair and gives a rousing speech about where exactly they’re going to look for Salt. Hey Tommy – try the bargain bin.
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