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Action Jolie film 'Salt' not great, but takes risks, succeeds

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By Eric Harris

When you watch as many movies as I do, you start to see patterns in every genre and things get very boring. I went into "Salt," the latest Angelina Jolie spy film, expecting a typical, safe movie that would be completely forgettable. I was pleasantly surprised to see an exciting action film that does not play it safe, but rather goes all out. "Salt" is not a great film or anything, but it is a film that takes risks and usually succeeds.

The title alone set up my negative expectations about the film. I could already imagine the cheesy jokes about the possible sequel, "Pepper." I still don't care for the title, but don't let it keep you from checking out the film. The title is Jolie's character, Evelyn Salt. Salt is a CIA agent about to take a desk job so she can enjoy a calm life with her husband.

Things go awry when a Russian defector shows up claiming that an agent named Evelyn Salt is actually a Russian spy and will attempt to kill the Russian president. Salt doesn't stick around to get questioned and the chase is on.

Up to that point, I felt the film was in "safe" territory. Going with Russian villains (that's never been done in a spy movie!), a relatively weak threat (sorry, Russia, in movie land, your president is a bland target), and a typical chase film involving an accused spy. And that is what the first 20 minutes of "Salt" is, a typical movie, but thankfully that quickly changes. The stakes are raised, the action is competent, and the formula is played with.

The formula I'm referring to concerns the accused spy. Normally, in a film like this, the accused spy is definitely innocent. In "Salt," I honestly didn't know if she was with the CIA or the Russians. That really kept the film interesting to me. I felt like I was watching something truly new. This is not a groundbreaking ploy or anything, but the possibility that Salt is actually the villain of the film made it much more entertaining.

The action, the story and the formula works, but this film also hinges on whether or not you buy into Angelina Jolie as a tough CIA field agent. This isn't her first action movie or anything, but I think some people still have doubts about her believability in these roles. I actually prefer Jolie in action films over dramas. I like watching her take down multiple enemies with ease. I completely buy into her as an action star and if you're just looking for a movie that features a lady who can kick the crap out of dudes, then look no further.

Jolie is fine, but the supporting cast really makes this film solid. Chiwetel Ejiofor ("2012," "Children of Men") and Liev Schreiber ("Wolverine," "The Manchurian Candidate") are two of the best actors working today and add credibility to any film they are in. I definitely see some Academy Awards in their future. I like that these guys are not going for the award-bait films lately, but rather have lent their services to big-budget and B-movie fare. I'm not saying good actors should only go for the money; it's just nice to see great actors in less artistic-type films.

I want to get back into the whole Russian spy angle of this film. The plot of the film concerns a Russian agent who trains orphans from a very young age to act like Americans, and then place them in American society and government until the day they are asked to serve the motherland. This might've seemed a little on the goofy side if not for the fact that it has sort of happened. Recently, a number of Russian spies who had lived in America for years were discovered. It felt like the Cold War was still going on. It's amusing how this film's release nearly coincided with that discovery and it certainly adds a little believability to the story.

Credibility and seriousness aside, this is a very fun movie. A few action scenes are over the top in a good way. I particularly enjoyed the scene in which Salt controls a vehicle by jolting the driver with a taser. There are a few enjoyable spy moments as well, the most notable is a disguise moment late in the film that has a borderline goofy feel, but still worked.

This is not a film without faults, though. The story has some definite plot holes that take a lot of assuming and disbelief to explain away. I forgive the film its problems, though, because the rest of it works so well. Fair warning, though, this movie seems dumber the more you look into it. I suggest you take the film at face value. Save the microscope for guys like Kubrick.

Enjoy "Salt" for what it is: a spy film in which Angelina Jolie beats up multitudes of enemies with ease and that includes a few twists and some fine acting. I wish it had a different title, because I honestly think this film deserves a sequel ... in the future I just don't want to tell a theater worker, "One for 'Pepper.' "

Harris, a Cannelton resident, is a movie buff and blogger who posts reviews of films at www.canneltoncritic.com.