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. and Mrs. Smith” and “Gone in Sixty Seconds” into “Wanted,” call it “Lara Croft: CIA Supervixen” and voila: you’d pretty much have 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 do. 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 show Roger Ebert originally did with the late, great Gene Siskel, it has pained me over the past few years to watch as the Pulitzer winner’s work has become increasingly characterized by signs of cognitive deterioration. Virtually every week, he reports some aspect of a picture inaccurately.
We all know he’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 while applauding Ebert for his resilience. He’s still out there going to screenings and writing reviews. The fact, though, is they’ve become a dismaying mashup of the insightful and unreliable.
In his piece on “Salt,” for example, he informs us within the span 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 a damn fine picture of any genre.
Which it most definitely is not. “Salt” is yet another of this summer’s trifles about operatives for top secret agencies who endeavor to clear their names once 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 The Road Runner in equal portions as he devotes an hour and a half to a prolonged chase throughout which Jolie’s character eludes half the government’s secret service contingent while eliminating by various improbable means the other. It’s a Bourne rip off in which neither logic nor the laws of physics holds 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 the fact that Cruise had the sense to run as fast as possible in the opposite direction. You would be wise to do the same.