We all know Angelina Jolie can kick butt. Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Wanted proved that. Heck, just look at her on the Salt poster. Would you want to run into that in a dark alley… or even a well-lit one?

Sure enough, after a five-minute opening scene of her being on the receiving end of a butt-kicking in a North Korean prison (two years earlier), the tables turn very quickly, and Jolie spends the better part of an hour-and-a-half kicking butt. Some of it’s smart, some of it’s silly, but all of it is entertaining and a pretty solid helping of summer movie fun.

Salt is hitting theaters at exactly the right time. It’s an edge-of-your-seat, pulse-pounding action/thriller that requires very little in the way or thinking and logic, which makes it a perfect break from the ‘my brain hurts’ mind-buster that is Inception.

Jolie is Evelyn Salt (or is she?), a married CIA operative who is called in to de-brief a walk-in Russian defector (or is he?) along with her partner Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber).

The defector, Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski), tells a wonderful story about a decades-long plot which will culminate in “Day X”, when the Communist Russian underground will rise from the ashes and unleash a butt-kicking of its own on the entire world.

Orlov wraps up the de-brief with the revelation that a spy named Evelyn Salt is part of the “Day X” scheme and will soon assassinate the Russian president (who’s on his way to New York for the U.S. Vice President’s funeral).

Of course Salt herself doesn’t like the sound of that and, claiming that she fears for her husband’s safety, she makes a run for it. However, crafting a rocket launcher out of a desk chair and some Lysol, stripping off underwear and using it to block a security camera, and shimmying barefoot from a 2nd story window in a smart business suit doesn’t exactly scream “innocent”, so… both Winter and his counterintelligence buddy Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) start the chase. And we spend the rest of the movie trying to figure out who is who and what is what.

The reason Salt works, despite more than a few eye-rolling moments, is partly due to director Phillip Noyce, who made the better-than-average Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger with Harrison Ford all those years ago. Noyce knows how to take a tense moment and make it edge-of-your-seat fun. Visual tricks, off-kilter camera angles, and a super-fast pace all work together to create an adventure that hearkens back to the late 80s and 90s when action movies were full of action, not special effects.

Credit also goes to screenwriter Kurt Wimmer (Law Abiding Citizen, The Recruit). He’s written a story that constantly keeps you guessing without making you have to think too hard. Yes, there are times when you could drive a semi through the plot holes, but this isn’t the kind of movie where you should be doing that anyway. If you’re gonna overanalyze Salt, you probably also sent angry letters back in the 80s, adamant that there’s no way Bruce Willis could have walked through that broken glass in Die Hard and kept on going.

The most credit, though, goes to Jolie herself, who’s no longer a leading female action hero but a leading action hero, period. In a script written for a man (specifically, Tom Cruise) she shines, proving that x and y chromosomes don’t matter. I’d argue, in fact, that casting Jolie helped turn what would have been yet another Jason Bourne/James Bond rip-off and turned into something that you’ll actually remember in a few years.

Plus, it’s pretty fun watching her kicking butt.

4/5 stars