Picks and Pans Main: Movies

updated 08/02/2010 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/02/2010 01:00AM

Salt

Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor | PG-13 |

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ACTION

This could have been called The Salt Identity. Not only does Angelina Jolie's superspy match Jason Bourne in athleticism, tactics and hand-to-hand combat, her debut settles on the same question as the first Bourne adventure: Who the heck is Evelyn Salt? One possible answer, according to a cloak-and-dagger type who strolls into her offices at the CIA one evening, is that she's a double agent bent on killing the Russian president. Before her colleagues (Schreiber and Ejiofor) can even process the thought, Salt's on the run, nimbly leaping onto moving trucks, blackening her blonde locks and going fully lethal: Natasha, after she's decided Boris is useless and moose and squirrel are chump change. Salt adds nothing new to the rogue-spy genre as Evelyn racks up a serious body count-nothing but Jolie herself. But what a difference she makes, convincingly demolishing her adversaries and turning the notion of the sex-kitten Bond girl into an anachronism. (And it must be said: No one's ever looked better holding a gun.) If Jolie wants her own badass franchise, we probably ought to give it to her-or else.

Ramona and Beezus

Joey King, Selena Gomez, Sandra Oh, Josh Duhamel | G |

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COMEDY

It's tricky bringing beloved children's literature to the big screen. For all the successes (Harry Potter), there's an occasional miss. (Remember The Cat in the Hat?) Ramona and Beezus, based on Beverly Cleary's popular series, falls somewhere in the middle. The casting is excellent, particularly for the adult roles: Ginnifer Goodwin and Duhamel shine as an aunt and her old flame; Oh makes a great stern elementary school teacher; and King perfectly embodies lovable pest Ramona. But the script is so crammed with subplots-current economic woes, Ramona's wild imagination (the movie dips randomly into fantasy), Beezus' (Gomez) adolescent struggles, home construction and pets in old age-that it never really engages the audience. As Ramona would say, "Guts."

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