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Salt

A femme fatale wreaks havoc in this quick bruiser

© Columbia Pictures Accused of being a Russian agent, Angelina Jolie takes to fight and flight to save herself.

CIA agent Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie: Wanted) is just leaving her spy office for an anniversary dinner with hubby when a Russian defector appears out of nowhere and spoils her bliss. In the interrogation room, he claims she’s a Russian operative who intends to kill the Russian president during a state visit. Instantly suspect, she’s detained for a moment before she breaks loose and leads a dangerous chase — rushing to save her butt and find her husband. But Salt isn’t exactly out to prove her innocence as she wrecks through every layer of national security.

The result is a perfectly capable action thriller, a Bourne-style rogue spy caper seasoned with a dash of Cold War paranoia à la The Manchurian Candidate. The constant rush kicks off with a MacGyver-styled assault and an escalating pursuit that careens by foot and motor across D.C.’s cityscape and highway onramps. Here and beyond, Jolie serves up admirable kick-assery as she strides confidently from one scene to the next, dispatching all challengers with sharp hand-to-hand and gunplay. Plus, she debuts a form of remote control driving that’s the very height of ridiculous resourcefulness.

Salt indulges constantly in action’s extremes, unleashing anarchy with doomsday abandon. But it’s good fun. Big explosions, audacious tactics and swift choreography make the sell.

Unrelenting action makes for a super-fast pace as story whips by in a focused march. Story is by no means intricate; it’s spare action fare merely serving as substrate for serving up calamitous destruction. But the framework is surprisingly whole. There isn’t much break in the action for development, so flashbacks are used to gradually piece together the hero’s truth. Director Phillip Noyce (Catch a Fire) is just stingy enough with explanation, muddling the mystery well enough in the buildup to keep curiosity alive. Predictable twists are complemented by surprise turns, and a couple of false stops send the movie down new paths of intrigue and upheaval.

Jolie is a solid hero. Liev Schreiber (Repo Men) as CIA boss Ted and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Serenity) as counterintelligence agent Peabody do well enough as the requisite sympathetic and fanatic pursuers. The defector and assorted evildoers, however, do little to serve up a front-and-center nemesis, instead serving as instigators for Salt’s run-in with a deep and nefarious plot.

The drawn-out adventure stretches thin toward the end. The movie just doesn’t want to die, to the point of setting up for sequel. Ultimately, this is no masterpiece. But it’s a swell enough action fix.

Good action • PG-13 • 100 mins.

Prediction Quality: Off the Mark