Angelina Jolie – Is there an Action Star Like Her?

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I saw the new Angelina Jolie film, Salt, this past Monday. This isn’t a review so I won’t critique the film other than to say if you like watching a sexy woman kick ass for ninety-five minutes you won’t be disappointed. Jolie has said she wanted to play a female James Bond and this film may be the closest she’ll ever get to it. Judging from what I saw last night, Angelina would have to tone it down a little to play Bond after her turn in Salt.

Kurt Wimmer originally scripted Salt for a male lead and at one point the filmmakers thought they had a commitment from Tom Cruise to play the title role. When Cruise Knight and Day. The Cruise vehicle sank quickly.

Jolie, on the other hand, has box office gold when she plays in action movies.

The domestic totals for her last four actioners were Laura Croft: Tomb Raider with $131 mil, Laura Croft Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life with $65 mil, Mr. and Mrs. Smith with $186 mil and Wanted with $134 mil. All four films had opening weekends over $25 million, three of the four were sold on her name alone and all four did even better overseas than they did domestically. Those are amazing figures for any star and all the more impressive considering the current climate for female stars in Hollywood.

Angelina Jolie in Salt
Photo: Columbia Pictures

That’s why it’s so curious Sony is releasing Salt into the teeth of Inception‘s second week. With so many weak films out this summer why go up against the one film many people in Hollywood considered the biggest event of the summer. Are the folks at Sony that confident in Jolie’s broad appeal or are they throwing her to the wolves?

It may be a little of both. Sony has had surprising success with family fare the last couple of years. Paul Blart: Mall Cop, The Karate Kid and Grown Ups all surpassed expectations. Paul Blart and The Karate Kid especially. However, when it comes to tentpole blockbusters the Sony kitchen is pretty bare. At least until the Untitled Spider-Man Reboot and Men in Black III arrive. And after the suckage of the MIB 2, I’m not sure they should count on the latter being a blockbuster.

Along comes Jolie in Salt. If she knocks off Inception after one week they’ll put Salt 2 in development right away. If not, they’ll tell everyone the Nolan juggernaut couldn’t be stopped. Inception was too big of a hurdle to overcome. Comparatively, no one said Sherlock Holmes was a failure because it didn’t beat out Avatar.

Early reviews were surprisingly favorable and forgiving. When I sat down to write this Salt sat at a solid 86% on the RottenTomatoes Tomatometer… However, it now has dwindled down to 56. I can’t say this surprises me much, considering almost even the early reviews were pointing out Salt‘s plotting is ridiculous and the story paper-thin. (Cole Smithey called the story “laughably implausible” while Kirk Honeycuttof the Hollywood Reporter said the film was “preposterous at every turn”. Both reviewers gave the movie thumbs up.) The one thing that got universal acclaim, though, was Angelina herself.

During a question and answer session after my screening, director Phillip Noyce told the audience Angelina gave him everything she had on the set. “She sincerely wants to put on a show.” That attitude pays off for the audience. At a time when all too many stars seem to mail in their performances, Jolie bared it all in an opening sequence, did most of her own stunts and throughout the film she was willing to have everything from mud, grease, blood and fake fecal matter spattered all over her body.

That’s why I admire Jolie. She always gives it everything she’s got.

Since she’s become a global star Jolie rarely gets to show off her acting chops. Still I’ll stack her up against any of her contemporaries. People don’t always put her in the same category with the two C(K)ates, Blanchett and Winslet, or even Nicole Kidman. But I’ve never seen any of those actors display the kind of raw intensity Jolie showed in Gia or the sincere earthiness she displayed as Cornelia Wallace in the George Wallace biopic back in 1997 and 1998. And she got an Oscar before the rest of them without making all of us suffer through a series of dreadful Oscar bait films to get it. (Any of you rushing out to get that Blu-ray version of The Hours for your home collection? I thought not.)

Not only that, but Angelina is the only actress out there other than Sandra Bullock who actually kicks butt on screen. Actresses used to have that gumption but not any more. Rosalind Russell went tooth and nail with Cary Grant and you believed it. When Hepburn met Tracy it was on equal footing. It’s the same with Angelina. When she goes head to head with Brad Pitt or Daniel Craig it seems like fair fight. That is if Pitt and Craig are packing.

Angelina is an old fashioned star. A Robert Mitchum with breasts. Willing to do the dirty work to entertain the masses. That’s why Salt will most likely be a success despite the critical reaction. Because the world loves a good movie star and there seem to be so few of them left.

It will be interesting to see what happens this weekend and beyond with Jolie. Not everyone is convinced that Salt will be a hit. I’m sure it will open well, but with a estimated production budget rumored to be more than $100 million and a P & A budget over $50, it will need to make in excess of $300 million worldwide just to break even. That means Salt 2 isn’t necessarily a done deal.

Of the other projects listed on her IMDB page, most are more speculative than real. Oh, sure Tim Burton will make Maleficent and someday someone will do a Cleopatra biopic but right now those films don’t even have scripts let alone start dates, and Jolie isn’t firmly attached to either one of them. The only flicks Jolie has coming out for sure are The Tourist with Johnny Depp and Kung Fu Panda: The Kaboom of Doom.

Let’s hope Salt does well this weekend. The world needs a star like her. I know I certainly do.