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Angelina Jolie has a blast as a CIA agent and suspected Russian sleeper spy.

Salt (PG-13)

Tom Cruise was supposed to play the leading role in Salt, but Sony Pictures and audiences everywhere will be thankful he had a change of heart—and the role had a change of gender. It turns out the stunning, sexy Angelina Jolie was born for action, and the character of Evelyn Salt fits her like a glove.

Like most thrillers, Salt has plot points that strain credibility—for instance, who’d believe that a simple change of hair color would in any way disguise the ever-recognizable Jolie—but no matter. Director Phillip Noyce (best known for his tender touch on Rabbit Proof Fence) has us too busy watching his leading lady brilliantly pull off eye-popping physical feats: climbing multi-story buildings, jumping from bridges onto moving semis, and karate-kicking armed officers while wielding a machine gun.

The story: CIA operative Evelyn Salt is accused by a defector of being a Russian spy who’s about to launch a terrorist plot—aimed at nothing less than bringing down the United States government—code named “Day X.” Partly to clear her name, largely to protect her innocent husband (a very likeable character played by August Diehl), Salt sets off on a thrilling, exhilarating chase. Her boss (Liev Schreiber) proclaims she’s the victim of a false conspiracy; his colleague (the memorable Chiwetel Ejiofor) doubts it.

There are multiple references to current affairs throughout Salt—and as an added bonus, the filmmakers lucked into those recent revelations about   a real-life Russian spy ring. Interesting allusions to matters from Jolie’s personal life also echo, including a subplot involving orphans.

Still, viewers will get the greatest pleasure not in tracking the twists and turns of the plot but in watching Jolie (who, by the way, pulls off a believable Russian accent) prove she can put her male action-movie counterparts to shame. Look out Daniel Craig, Matt Damon, Harrison Ford, etc. And at least half of those in the audience will enjoy the movie’s feminist point of view: A virtual army of men populate the cast, but it’s the sole woman, front and center in virtually every scene, who kicks ass. The filmmakers blatantly offer an ending that’s ripe for a sequel, and that’s because as Evelyn Salt, Angelina Jolie leaves us wanting more.

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