A neo-Cold War thriller would seem like just the ticket for cineastes who fondly recall Iron Curtain-courting capers on the order of The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, Fail-Safe and select James Bond tales. And the title of Salt (** out of four) even suggests a nod to that significant chunk of 20th century history involving U.S.-U.S.S.R. tensions: After all, SALT (Strategic Arms Limitations Talks) was the name given to the discussions centering on reducing both nations' arsenals of nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, the majority of this frequently daft picture fails to pay honor either to its cinematic predecessors or to its real-life milieu: Extracting the occasional misplaced titter from disbelieving viewers, it stirs memories less of John le Carre and more of Yakov Smirnoff.
Angelina Jolie, again proving herself to be a potent action star (when is someone going to offer her a Marvel or DC superheroine to play?), headlines as Evelyn Salt, a CIA agent accused of being a Russian spy. Her boss (Liev Schreiber) believes her to be innocent, while another agency suit (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is convinced of her guilt. Salt is forced to escape from her CIA stronghold — she can only clear her name and protect her unsuspecting husband (August Diehl) if she's free — but as she follows a trail of clues, it begins to appear as if maybe even she's not completely certain about her own identity.
In a role previously envisioned for Tom Cruise (who opted to make the thematically similar but marginally more entertaining Knight and Day instead), Jolie is practically the whole show; the rest is negligible, from the repetitive (if well-staged) chase sequences to the absurd plotting, which — thanks to obvious casting in a key role and director Phillip Noyce's previous handling of the exact same plot pirouette in the Jack Ryan adventure Patriot Games — culminates in a final twist that can be spotted even before moviegoers manage to crack the top layer of their buttered popcorn at the film's start. There's already talk of a sequel to Salt, but it's going to have to provide a lot more flavor than this bland offering.