Tastes Off to Me

Why are the critics giving Salt a pass?

Tastes Off to Me

Why are the critics giving Salt a pass?

I’d like to extend my regrets to Knight and Day. I panned that film a month or so ago, calling it infuriating for this viewer, “still naively wishing her entertainment might be tethered however faintly to logic.” But apparently, logic is no longer of any concern, if my fellow critical brethren are to be believed.

Here’s a selective sampling of quotes from last week’s reviews for Salt, the action thriller starring Angelina Jolie as a maybe-double agent named Evelyn Salt:

“Lightweight.” “Senseless.” “This movie has holes in it big enough to drive the whole movie through.” “Flagrantly preposterous.”

Guess what? Those are all positive reviews. Like I said, selective sampling. Read the full texts (and you should -- they're terrific writers and critics I respect, all of 'em), and every one of those seeming digs then tempers, cadges, or more or less throws its hands up in the air and imagines Angelina Jolie’s pillowy lips. So, make that “lightweight but durable” (the Chronicle’s Marc Savlov) and “a senseless blast” (New York Magazine’s David Edelstein). Roger Ebert is the one to point out the massive plot holes, but offers this self-rebuttal: “Oh, it's not that the plot holds water or makes any sense, but it's a pleasure to be surprised here and there along the way.” And here’s why Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman is okay with that flagrant preposterousness: “[T]he movie doesn't pretend to be anything other than that; to call it out for being ludicrous would be like complaining that Superman flies.”

That’s an awful lot of apologias for a movie that, by my count, was less movie and more an endless action sequence (and on that subject: is anyone else eager for a post-parkour actioner?). Salt is ostensibly about secret identities, but to be surprised and delighted by the unmasking of a character, you have to first care about the character – frankly, if they hadn’t put Jolie’s character’s name in the title, I probably would’ve forgotten it, so completely disengaged from her I felt. (EW’s Lisa Schwarzbaum already touched on the sticks-in-the-craw fact of Salt’s xy chromosome overload, leading lady aside.) And while I think Jolie can be a finely nuanced actress, good with drama and comedy, I think she slides into clenched-jaw-automaton territory when she goes action.

If I were feeling generous, I’d argue director Phillip Noyce and writer Kurt Wimmer were trying so hard to keep the viewer guessing as to the true identities of characters that they simply went too far in the wrong direction (by giving us zilch to work with). But, newly unburdened of 8 bucks and my Saturday evening, I’m feeling far from generous. I’m wondering if the filmmakers – equally awed by the titanic force that is la Jolie and slackened by the forgiving summer release date – gave themselves the same pass that critics eventually did.

So what gives? Has the summer movie slate been so bad that even sub-par looks standout? Has Jolie simply ascended, in the minds of critics, into that rare rank of actors who can do no wrong? Or did I just go into a popcorn coma and not catch what was so great about the film?

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Salt, Angelina Jolie

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