In the battle of summer 2010 action blockbusters that star or almost starred Tom Cruise, Salt (in which Cruise was originally slated to take the title role) comes out slightly ahead of Knight and Day, if for no other reason than it isn’t trying so hard to be clever and funny. There’s maybe one moment of humor to be found in Salt’s breakneck 100 minutes, but the movie’s single-minded focus is its best quality: Things are moving so fast that you don’t have time to stop and think about how they don’t make any sense.
Instead of Cruise, Salt has Angelina Jolie as CIA agent Evelyn Salt, whose world is turned upside down when a Russian defector walks into her office and declares her a secret sleeper agent about to carry out an assassination. When her superiors decide that Salt needs to be held until the whole mess is sorted out, she breaks free and goes on the run, protesting her innocence. The template is familiar from various spy movies (and most obviously recalls the Bourne franchise), and the first half of Salt is essentially one long chase sequence. The pieces don’t quite fit together, but at least everyone’s motives are clear, and director Phillip Noyce (returning to mainstream Hollywood after a series of dull social-issue dramas) stages some exciting action sequences.
Then, about halfway through the movie, the story takes a turn, and the twists just keep piling up. What at first seems like an intriguing development becomes more and more ludicrous, until the plot holes and credibility gaps overwhelm the moments of excitement. Jolie keeps Salt grounded even as her actions become increasingly unbelievable, but the movie around her spins completely out of control. Maybe Tom Cruise was smart to stick to quips after all.