Film Friday: ‘Salt’ and ‘Ramona And Beezus’

by W. Andrew Powell

Angelina Jolie in Salt

Angelina Jolie in Salt

Opening this week in theatres, Angelina Jolie stars in the spy-thriller, Salt, as a CIA agent trying to get to the bottom of a massive Russian plot to destroy America. Plus, a look at the family-friendly Ramona And Beezus, starring Joey King.

Starring: Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Andre Braugher, Zoe Lister Jones
Director: Phillip Noyce

Rated: 5.5/10

Sometimes I wonder what you would find if you studied the basic genetic makeup of your average movie. Much like Charles Darwin discovered how life on Earth has evolved, I’m convinced there is a similar genetic chain in pretty much every movie that opens in theatres.

As I’ve said before, I call it the movie pedigree, and few movies have such obvious signs of this pedigree as director Phillip Noyce’s Salt.

Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, and Chiwetel Ejiofor star in this film about Russian spies who are coming out of hiding to wreak their revenge against their most hated Cold War enemy, the United State of America.

Jolie plays Evelyn Salt, a high-ranking CIA agent who interviews a Russian defector who has promised to hand over some very valuable information. During the interview, however, the defector turns the tables on Salt, swearing that she’s a sleeper agent who is about to kill the Premier of Russia during a funeral in New York City.

With her loyalty called into question, and Salt leaping off to try to save her missing husband, Salt’s superiors are hot on her tail and trying to bring her in at any cost. Salt doesn’t seem to care though, evading everyone with ease and embarking on a journey to dig deeper into what’s really going on with these sleeper agents who are trying to destroy America.

To give you a better idea what to expect from Salt, the key is really that all-important film pedigree I mentioned before, which I’m basing on Noyce’s previous hit films: Patriot Games, and Clear and Present Danger — two films that may not share the same story, but certainly carry the essence of Noyce’s filmmaking style.

Better yet, take a look at writer Kurt Wimmer’s most recent film, Law Abiding Citizen, or the work of co-writer Brian Helgeland, who helped write the recent spy drama, Green Zone. Salt is almost literally a melting pot of all those films, mixing in Wimmer’s theme of, “Who can I trust,” with the action and spy themes found in both Green Zone and Noyce’s other works.

It’s just amazing to me that with all those things to work off of, the film still feels like it’s set in 1981. It’s also hard to believe that anyone really thought the Russians would seem like a credible threat in this modern age. It’s like we’re supposed to forget about twenty years of history.

At least Jolie is good in this — and how could she not be since she’s played similar roles a couple of times now. She’s coy when she needs to be, somewhat seductive for a few brief sequences, and most of all, she gives Salt this sense of being utterly unbreakable, and yet absolutely sad at the same time. Jolie brings all the right moves to the role, and plays the part perfectly straight-faced, as Noyce seems to prefer, but my complaint is simply that, in a film where the script is based on Cold War camp, it’s sometimes hard to take the whole thing as seriously as they expect.

Jolie certainly tries her best with Salt though, and I could actually imagine showing up for a sequel, if for no other reason than to see what Salt was up to next (and trust me, the film sets itself up for a direct sequel), but a lot of things could improve, that’s for sure.

For starters, Salt would have been a lot more fun with some kind of sense of humour. The film could have been made with the exact same script 30 years ago, and yet there is barely even a wink or a nudge from the director or writers to say, “Hey, remember this back in the day? Those were good times, right?” Noyce simply has no sense of that, or he’s too devoted to the dark undertones he dabs liberally throughout the film. Had the script been a bit better, that darkness would have sucked me in, but in this cheese-fest, it just comes across as a great big bad idea.

As Evelyn Salt says just ten minutes into the film, as the Russian defector is explaining the crux of the story, “You’re killing me, man. When does the good fairy come in?”

Jolie is obviously no fairy, and from Salt’s obsession with stealing clothes, to her panache for rigging up a remote control policeman, and her spider monkey routine down a giant elevator shaft, it’s clear someone actually either had no idea how funny this was, or thought it just looked pretty cool. Either way, I give credit to Jolie for trying.

If you’re willing to accept that Salt is simply no Jason Bourne, you might end up enjoying the film, especially if you can handle some of the sillier moments near the end. The film has no problem making most of the action sequences look right, it just missed the mark by about three decades.

Ramona And Beezus
Starring: Joey King, John Corbett, Sandra Oh, Bridget Moynahan, Ginnifer Goodwin, Josh Duhamel, Selena Gomez
Director: Elizabeth Allen

Newcomer Joey King stars as Ramona Quimby in this big screen adaptation of Beverly Cleary’s well-known children’s novels.

Ramona is an imaginative young girl with energy, wit, and a huge sense of adventure who tends to drive her older sister, nicknamed Beezus and played here by Selena Gomez, a bit crazy.

In this first adventure, while she gets into lots and lots of mischief, Ramona must find a way to save her family’s home.

Although the film is not averaging great reviews, the critics who love Ramona And Beezus have a lot of praise for it. As Glenn Whipp wrote for the Los Angeles Times, “Tenderness isn’t a quality found much these days in the whirring-and-clanging busyness of family movies, which makes this G-rated gem’s emphasis on emotion and heart all the more laudable.”

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