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Originally published July 22, 2010 at 10:03 AM | Page modified July 22, 2010 at 10:22 AM

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Movie review

'Salt': Angelina Jolie is breathless in action-packed spy thriller

"Salt," a breathless, preposterous, top-notch action thriller, stars Angelina Jolie as a superspy accused of being a traitorous assassin.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3 stars

'Salt,' with Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Daniel Olbrychski. Directed by Phillip Noyce, from a screenplay by Kurt Wimmer. 100 minutes. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action. Several theaters.

A couple weeks ago, "Salt" got an unexpected boost of credibility in the suspension of disbelief department. If recent news reports about actual Russian sleeper spy cells are true, why doesn't it follow that a wafer-thin Angelina Jolie can fly across three freeway overpasses bouncing atop speeding trucks without shattering every bone in her body?

That the feeble machinations of this breathless action thriller are based in a semblance of spy-trade truth does help its hurtling narrative seem slightly less preposterous.

The relentless pace, hair-raising stunts and air of affected gravitas also goes a long way in boosting "Salt" a rung above much of this summer's other multiplex fare as a top-notch action thriller. Between the nonstop covert ops jargon and hysterical feats of escape-artist derring-do there simply isn't time to even consider the movie's tagline: "Who is Salt?"

Beginning with a prologue set in North Korea, there's never a doubt about how tough a superspy Evelyn Salt really is. In short order, the movie throws us into an off-kilter muddle as her loyalty goes out the window, her lithe body plunging behind, when a suspicious Russian defector names her as a traitor with assassination on her mind.

After neutralizing a tactical assault team with a McGyver-esque potion of cleaning products and office furniture, Salt is on the run from her boss and best friend (Liev Schreiber), scampering around stories-high ledges and leaping between the speeding traffic of downtown Washington, D.C.

She seems to be heading to New York to fulfill the defector's prophecy of offing the Russian president and setting into motion "Day X," a leftover Soviet-era legend that would bring down America in one fell swoop. Based on Salt's behavior, it doesn't seem to be a fairy tale, especially when a cadre of moles trained in Russia from childhood start attacking simultaneously from inside the U.S. government.

But anyone who knows Jolie should sense where "Salt" is going. The double-think activity — which drives genuinely exciting set pieces at a massive state funeral, through the corridors of the West Wing and in a fortified bunker 16 stories below the White House — is rarely what it seems.

Veteran director Phillip Noyce relies almost solely on practical effects and a tightly choreographed stunt team to stress the nonstop action and keep those pesky questions of who, why and how at bay.

Jolie fits the role perfectly, with guts and an inherent solemnity that makes us cheer harder for her. Who else could end a movie based on her own superstar superman-isms by running off to find more?

Ted Fry: tedfry@hotmail.com

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