'Who is Salt?' we are teased by the posters advertising this film. Evelyn Salt is a CIA agent accused of being a Russian spy. She goes on the run, tidily evading CIA and counter-terrorism units alike. Her motives are murky. Is she fleeing to protect her nice normal hubby - or is he? Is she really a Cold War sleeper spy? Her boss and general nice guy - or is he? - Ted (Liev Schreiber) thinks the former, while bull-headed counter-terrorism head and nasty guy - or is he? - Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is convinced she's a wrong 'un.
But who is Salt, really? Easy. She is Angelina Jolie, Jolie being one of those stars who creates a role in her own image, rather than disappear into a character. While that's distracting in a smaller film, it's well-suited to a big silly summer movie designed to pull audiences in on the strength of her name and the promise of action, action, action. Salt delivers on that score - it's a massive action blockbuster loaded with massive action sequences involving massive guns, massive body-counts and massively unconvincing disguises, Angelina Jolie disguised as a man being about as convincing a cross-dresser as Vinnie Jones in twin-set and pearls.
Still, realism was never the aim of a film where our star rides the roofs of trucks, brushes off the occasional bullet wound as a mere scratch and abseils down elevator shafts with her bare hands. There's also an interestingly retro feel to the racial stereotyping on offer here - instead of the dodgy Arabs and made-up countries ending in "-iristan" of recent times, there's a boatload of crazy redder-than-red Russians. It's like we're back in Roger Moore-era Bond. Of course, the real aim of Salt is to keep you too engrossed in the action, action, action to worry about prejudicial depictions of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or indeed about how much sense the plot isn't making. At least, that seems to be the aim. The incredibly open ending would suggest that actually, the secret mission of this double agent thriller is to set up a lucrative franchise in the Jason Bourne vein. If it happens, so be it, but they're so blatant about it here, it's rather like someone on a first date talking excitedly about marriage and babies, which ends things on an off-puttingly keen note.
In a nutshell: Who is Salt? She's mostly a silly excuse for lots of gunplay and random plot twists. Daft, but entertaining enough while it lasts, and it's oddly fun to see that venerable villainess, the Cold War, showing the young upstarts how it's done.
By Catherine Bray