"Salt" is one of the summer blockbuster season's best movies.
The nifty, slick and satisfying espionage action-thriller is James Bond meets Catwoman. Forget Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis and other movie macho men, Angelina Jolie is the new action hero.
Jolie plays Evelyn Salt, a United States CIA agent accused of being a Russian agent. Liev Schreiber plays her CIA colleague Ted Winter, who says she's not.
It's doubtful that the storyline will affect SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) between the U.S. and Russia, but the film-makers must have been aware of the double entendre interpretation of Jolie's character's last name, Salt and SALT.
"Salt" benefits from a ripped-from-the headlines plot involving a Russian sleeper cell living as American residents ready to mobilize. The screenplay describes "highly-trained sleeper agents."
A fascinating back story, with vintage photographs of Lee Harvey Oswald, adds verisimilitude. While the movie's producers, including former Bethlehem resident Ric Kidney, couldn't have predicted the timing of the Russian spies outing and U.S.-Russian spies swap with the movie's release, it is eerie.
Jolie has the chops, as in martial arts, and stunt work physicality, to play a super agent, as well as one of Russian heritage.
We've seen her in roles like this before ("Laura Croft: Tomb Raider," "Beyond Borders," "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," "The Good Shepherd"). Her big eyes, level gaze, impassive face and reserved nature convey a deep reservoir of passion and strength.
Schreiber, with his clenched jaw, is well-cast as a CIA official. Chiwetel Ejiofor brings his great screen presence to the role of a CIA official who must sort out the mess.
Director Philip Noyce ("The Quiet American" and "Clear and Present Danger," "Patriot Games," the latter two based on Tom Clancy spy thrillers) is the go-to guy for espionage thrillers.
Noyce directs "Salt" in a vivid, realistic, fast-paced style that places you in the midst of the action. Computer Generated Imagery, models and special effects are seamless, adding to the visual intensity.
"Salt" has finely-executed chase scenes in the interior of a Washington, D.C., CIA office building, on a New York City expressway and in a White House security bunker. The Russian dialect of Jolie and others sounds authentic, and the subtitles are fun.
The plot points utilize security cams, high-tech computer communication and cell phone text messaging.
Screenwriter Kurt Wimmer ("Law Abiding Citizen," "The Thomas Crown Affair") strains Discovery Channel "MythBusters" credulity, but that's typical of the genre.
"Salt" has some clever plot twists. We won't play spoiler. Suffice it to say, "Salt II," anyone? Yes.
"Salt," MPAA Rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13) for intense sequences of violence and action; Genre: Action, Thriller; Run time: 1 hr., 40 min.; Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Credit Readers Anonymous: Eight-time Oscar nominee James Newton Howard is the composer of the "Salt" soundtrack.
Box Office, July 23: "Inception" continued to intrigue, staying at No. 1 with a robust $43.5 million and $143.6 million after two weeks. "Salt" opened at No. 2, with a solid $36.5 million.
3. "Despicable Me," $24.1 million; $161.7 million, three weeks; 4. "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," $9.6 million, $42.6 million, two weeks; 5. "Toy Story 3," $9 million, $379.5 million, six weeks; 6."Ramona and Beezus," $8 million, opening; 7. "Grown Ups," $7.6 million, $142.4 million, five weeks; 8. "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse," $7 million, $279.6 million, four weeks; 9. "The Last Airbender," $4.1 million, $123.2 million, four weeks; 10. "Predators," $2.8 million, $46.5 million, three weeks:
Unreel: July 30: "Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore," Rated PG: The voices of James Marsden, Nick Nolte, Christina Applegate, Wallace Shawn, Bette Midler and Chris O'Donnell power the Computer Generated Imagery in a comedy about dogs and cats joining forces to thwart the plot of a rogue spy cat.
"Charlie St. Cloud," Rated PG-13: The drama stars Zac Efron as Charlie St. Cloud, who, still grieving over his younger brother's death, meets a girl and struggles with moving on.
"Dinner for Schmucks," Rated PG-13: In the comedy by director Jay Roach ("Austin Powers," "Meet the Fockers"), Paul Rudd plays an executive who brings an IRS agent played by Steve Carell to his boss's monthly dinner party where the newest guest is a figure of fun.
Four Popcorn Boxes Out of Five Popcorn Boxes