Salt posterRed lightAside from pointing towards Angelina Jolie’s smouldering good looks – those moony soul-piercing eyes, the chunky cherry ripe lips, the wet gothic visage which never dries or dissipates, as if the wind changed one fateful day and froze her face into the shape of a beautiful ancient gargoyle – nobody appears to be capable of explaining how she ever became the alternate-ish “it” girl she was until about half a decade ago, though any crank can tell you why she no longer resides in that vaguely left-of-centre cool where certain celebs escape reputation unscathed from dodgy performances in dodgy flicks because, well, we always knew they were better than that…

Jolie’s clunker counter has by anybody’s count gone through the roof: Tomb Raider, Original Sin, Alexander, Mr and Mrs Smith, Beowulf and a plethora of other popcorn no-brainers have portrayed her as the equivalent of smoking hot scenery, her roles aesthetically heavy on flesh but – at least as theatrical or even entertainment value goes – with scant meat on the bone and the slimmest of dramatic pickings, with occasional exceptions (i.e. Clint Eastwood’s Changeling in 2008).

The nadir of Jolie’s career thus far is Salt, an arduous quasi spy caper that seems to be inspired by late night drunken cohorts – a two drinks, three, floor challenge, perhaps, to fashion an entire theatrical experience around close shaves and daring escapes but to somehow make them all feel inoffensively ho-hum in the meantime. Evelyn Salt’s (Jolie) on-the-run workout sees her escaping from high security institutions, a police car, an apartment block, an elevator shaft, a North Korean torture chamber and – for a touch of vertiginous class – an in-flight helicopter.

What should have amounted to a ridiculous good time instead materialized into a movie desperate to impress at any cost – including sacrificing the slimmest notions of interesting characters or plot lines in favour of lazily choreographed hi-jinx.

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The small shreds of narrative follow Salt as she is accused of being a Russian spy and the high-octane low-brain kerfuffle that eventuates. Salt fly kicks, jumps off the wall, leaps onto trucks and ticks all the “kick ass heroine” boxes. However there is a strangely strained sensation underlining all the hullaballoo, a hard to place feeling as if Jolie were already way too old for this, a pensioner in a young woman’s bod determined to swing her hips again for the camera like the good old days.

Australian Hollywood-based filmmaker Phillip Noyce has made some iffy American flicks before – The Saint with Val Kilmer in ’94, The Bone Collector with Denzel Washington in ’99 – but he’s better than this, as The Quiet American and Rabbit Proof Fence amply demonstrated.

Phony baloney double crosses, lame story twists, too serious by half performances and a thick carcinogenic cloud of desperation that hangs above all this sordidness make Salt a colossal sized lemon for Noyce and his somehow already over-the-hill star. It is another taste of bitterness to bedevil those chunky cherry lips.

Salt’s Australian theatrical release date: August 19, 2010

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