Last night I watched Salt, the Angelina Jolie spy movie. This is basically an action flick, with maybe 12 seconds of character development at the beginning that is only required as background explanation for a cold look near the middle of the movie, and a brief explanation at the end. After that Angelina Jolie kills a bunch of people, does a bunch of stunts, kills a bunch more people, rinse and repeat.

So, overall, a lot of fun. There’s a plot in there, sufficient to keep you interested in why Salt is jumping from that truck to that truck, or sticking her pen in that man’s neck, or whatever. As plots go it’s got the standard elements of trickery, twist, and ludicrousness that one comes to expect of modern action movies. Gone are the days when a chap turns up in town and kills a bunch of people ’cause they hurt his dog. Now they have to have a hidden secret and a bunch of social connections.

See what happens when you let chicks into action movies?

Anyway, my main problem with the plot was that the fundamental bad guy plot was ridiculous. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything here when I reveal that it involved a Russian plot to start world war 3 by deception, only the entire plan revolves around the most ludicrously high-stakes spy action that you can possibly imagine. The Russian plot has so many points where it could go off the rails that it’s just silly.

Nonetheless, we don’t really care, do we? Because the more ludicrous the plot, the more elevator shafts Angelina Jolie has to scale, the more times she has to throw her lingerie on the camera, and the more people have to die horribly.

So if your shtick is a kind of feminized version of Die Hard crossed with James Bond, and you enjoy watching unbelievable stunts and unbelievable killing scenes, and you don’t like Russians, then this is the movie for you. Also, of course, if you like Angelina Jolie. Interestingly, I have managed to make it to 2011 without ever previously seeing an Angelina Jolie movie. I think she’s okay, kind of like a female Sylvester Stallone, though I doubt she’s ever been in a movie as thoughtful and intense as First Blood[1].

Overall: worth watching on a quiet evening.

As a tiny postscript to this, I think working in public health has destroyed some small part of my brain. Watching this movie I could suspend my disbelief when she jumped out of helicopters, leapt from truck to truck across layers of highway, etc. But when she reversed off an overpass at high speed, while not wearing a seat-belt, and then walked away from the resulting smash unhurt, I found myself thinking “there’s no way that would happen.” Maybe it’s because I was in a low-speed car crash with a seat-belt on, maybe it’s the public health training… but whenever I watch car-chases now I find myself thinking “If you want to walk away from this you need to put your seat-belt on,” and they never do. I wonder what proportion of real-life car-chases end because the perp was unbelted, and managed to whack himself into insensibility halfway through the chase?

fn1: I recall First Blood was derided as highly violent when it came out but I wonder if it looks really weak in comparison to an average modern movie? Maybe I should check… I don’t recall a single moment of violence from First Blood, just the setting and the desperation of Rambo. I predict that 20 years from now I won’t remember a single second of Salt.[2]

fn2: I have a friend who I swear is not a masochist, who has watched Episode 2 of Star Wars (that is, Attack of George Lucas’s Brainfarts, or whatever it’s called) maybe 5 or 6 times – for what nefarious reason he will not say – and he still, to this day, does not understand the plot. Nor can he, apparently, remember a single part of it clearly after he leaves the cinema. This isn’t film, folks, it’s an elaborate form of mind-destruction through visual media.