- Rated PG-13
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All photos © Sony Pictures
Reviewed by David Medsker
he snarky thing to say about a movie like “Salt” is “why?,” and in defense of the people who resort to such unimaginative commentary, we can’t say we blame them. The movie is clearly a Bourne wannabe, with a dash of “The Fugitive” for flavor. But Hollywood is a business, just like any other business, and when the Jason Bourne franchise went on hiatus, it made sense that a rival studio would fill the gap with a Bourne-ish thriller because there is always a thirst for high-octane political intrigue, even if there is almost nothing new that can be brought to the table. We therefore recognize “Salt’s” right to exist as a product, and will judge it accordingly.
And as a product, well, “Salt” gets it half right. The plot is actually simple – it’s the main players’ intentions that are murky. The problem is that this ruse does not carry the movie all the way to the finish line, resulting in a not-so-climactic climax. It does provide some nifty thrills along the way, though, and the decision to recast the role with a female lead (Tom Cruise was originally cast, as Edwin Salt) was both brave and smart.
Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) is a US spy who’s trying to get home to her husband when a Russian turns himself over to the American authorities and informs them of an attempt that will be made on the life of the Russian President…by a Russian sleeper agent named Evelyn Salt. Salt insists that she’s not a sleeper, and her colleague Ted Winter (Liev Schrieber) believes her, but her protégé, Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor), wants to question her further. Salt, however, is more concerned about the safety of her husband Mike (August Diehl), and goes on the run in order to get some answers and save her man.
That synopsis is misleading on a couple of levels, but to say more would ruin the handful of pleasures the movie has to offer. And in any case, the driving force of the movie isn’t the plot (prepare for a boatload of pre-story on that front) but the action, where Jolie gets to kick a ridiculous amount of ass while cheating death every second of the way. Several of these scenes, especially the car chase, have the visceral impact of the Paul Greengrass-directed “Bourne” movies, but are lacking in plausibility. One scene even steals a page from “Die Hard with a Vengeance.”
The three leads are all solid, if unspectacular. Schrieber and Ejiofor don’t really have personalities so much as jobs to do in order to keep things moving, while Jolie is never allowed to sit still long enough to feel much of anything. Director Phillip Noyce is on familiar ground here (he directed the Harrison Ford-led Tom Clancy movies and “The Saint”), and while he does a perfectly competent job, his directing style doesn’t have any more personality than the characters.
Columbia is clearly hoping that this will turn into a franchise, but while they were busy setting up “Salt” for a potential sequel, they forgot to make sure the movie stood well enough on its own to merit one. It would certainly be fun to watch Jolie kick ass every two or three years, but this “Salt” could use a little more flavor.
Deluxe Unrated Edition Blu-Ray Review:
Sony dresses up Angelina Jolie's spy thriller with a bunch of extras, including three versions of the movie itself: the theatrical version, the director's cut (three minutes longer), and an unrated extended cut, which features a different ending (though is roughly the same length as the theatrical version). There are loads of featurettes on the female spy movie, interviews with actual agents, two bits on director Phillip Noyce, a feature on special effects, and one on makeup and prosthetics. There is also an audio commentary. We didn't explore the BD-Live features (because, well, we can't; the player isn't hooked up to the internet), but a fan could get lost in the extras "Salt" provides.