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Angelina Jolie, Salt

Columbia Pictures

Review in a Hurry: You'd hope an action thriller called Salt might at least have some kick to it and raise your blood pressure a bit. But this muddle, starring Angelina Jolie as a maybe, maybe-not Soviet sleeper spy, isn't as tasty as it is tiresome. Overly complex characters, poorly edited action bits and a pileup of ludicrous twists leave this flick a flavorless mess.

The Bigger Picture: As the movie opens, Jolie's Evelyn Salt is being assaulted by North Koreans, who've stripped her down to her underwear (had to get that gratuitous image into the film somehow!). She pleads that she's just a businesswoman, but when the CIA comes to the rescue, led by her best friend Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber), we learn otherwise—she too is with the agency. Or is she? A Russian defector, who just walks in to their disguised HQ claiming to have information, casually drops the fact that he's heard a Russian spy named Evelyn Salt is going to Washington to kill the Russian president. (Yes, the trailer cleverly recut the scene to imply that the American president was the target.)

Rather than stick around to calmly talk things through, Salt promptly busts out of CIA HQ and heads straight for Washington, which does little to dissuade folks that she's not a dangerous traitor. We learn that whatever Salt is mixed up in has something to do with sleeper agents, people brainwashed as children in the then-Soviet Union and placed in the United States to one day rise up as adults and overthrow the nation.

Director Phillip Noyce has a mixed track record when it comes to this kind of stuff. His fact-based The Quiet American was solid, as was his breakthrough thriller Dead Calm. But that résumé is also dotted with star-driven duds like Sliver and The Saint, and his Jack Ryan movies were the least interesting two of that four-film Tom Clancy franchise. Given he's at his weakest when he works on big Hollywood celebrity projects, it may not be too much of a surprise that he falters here as well. But in all fairness, any director would have been severely challenged by the material.

The crux of the entire thing is that we don't know what's going on inside our main character's head, which makes her impossible to identify with or relate to. This can work if the folks opposing her are compelling and identifiable, but they are neither: Chiwetel Ejiofor turns in an uncharacteristically generic and lazy performance as the skeptical Peabody, while Schreiber only serves to remind us that he was in a more official Manchurian Candidate remake.

Add to that action sequences that rely too heavily on close-ups and not enough on establishing who's doing what to whom and sloppy editing: At one point, Salt approaches a large, impenetrable-looking door that's just about to close. We want to know how she can possibly get through, but then the camera cuts away, and next time we see her, Salt is already on the other side.

Also, it's apparently quite easy for a trained killer to just walk into the White House during a time of national crisis and nearly start a nuclear war. All those Bond villains were wasting a lot of time and money, it would seem.

The 180—a Second Opinion: A scene in which Jolie uses prosthetics to disguise herself as a man is (intentionally) hilarious. She looks like Darrell Hammond impersonating Arnold Schwarzenegger.