Didn’t we just see this movie? Why go to the trouble of shooting a new one when you could simply toss a few scenes from Mr. & Mrs. Smith and Gone in 60 Seconds into Wanted, call it Lara Croft: CIA Supervixen and voilà: You’d have pretty much everything Salt has to offer.
Which is, believe me, not a hell of a lot. Let’s put the latest from director Phillip Noyce (Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger) in context: This is a spy thriller whose tone, its creators would like you to believe, is tongue in cheek. At least, I pray to God they would. And it’s directed by a filmmaker whose heyday is a dim ’90s memory. The biggest red flag: After reading Kurt Wimmer’s script, Tom Cruise — for whom it was written — took a pass. He opted for the dismal, dopey Knight and Day over this. That has to tell you something.
Probably everything you need to know, for that matter. Before I put you in a coma with a summary of the plot, permit me a digression.
Having been inspired to engage in this profession by the movie-review show Roger Ebert once did with the late, great Gene Siskel, it has pained me over the past few years to watch as the Pulitzer winner’s work becomes increasingly characterized by signs of cognitive deterioration. Virtually every week, he inaccurately reports some aspect of a picture.
We all know Ebert’s been through a bitch of a battle with cancer. Without the aid of an electronic device, he can’t even communicate vocally anymore. I find this profoundly saddening, even as I applaud Ebert for his resilience. He’s still out there going to screenings and writing reviews. The fact is, though, they’ve become a dismaying mashup of the insightful and unreliable.
In his piece on Salt, for example, the critic informs us within the space of his first two paragraphs that “Salt is a damn fine thriller” and that “it’s gloriously absurd” with “holes in it big enough to drive the whole movie through.” Maybe it’s just me, but this sounds more like a recommendation for a Zucker brothers spoof than for a damn fine picture of any genre.
Which Salt most definitely is not. It’s yet another of this summer’s trifles about operatives for top-secret agencies who endeavor to clear their names after they’re accused of disloyalty in one form or another.
Angelina Jolie is suspected of being a double agent working for the Russians. Wimmer borrows unabashedly from The Manchurian Candidate and “Road Runner” cartoons in equal portions as he devotes an hour and a half to a prolonged chase, during which Jolie’s character eludes half the government’s secret-service contingent while eliminating the other by various improbable means. It’s a Bourne rip-off in which neither logic nor the laws of physics hold sway, a busy, by-the-numbers homage to the preposterous.
Honestly, I think that’s all you really need to know. Except, perhaps, that Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor come along for the slum. Cookie-cutter entertainment at its most derivative, Salt offers little in the way of the unexpected. The biggest surprise here, I suppose, would be that Cruise had the sense to run as fast as he could in the opposite direction. You would be wise to do the same.