Synopsis: As a CIA officer, Evelyn Salt swore an oath to duty, honor and country. Her loyalty will be tested when a defector accuses her of being a Russian spy.
Why We're Excited: A gender change is exactly what this project needed; Tom Cruise originally was set to play Edwin Salt, which felt so Mission: Predictable to us. Typically, Angelina Jolie is undeniable in action mode, and we’d be fine with a sequel or two if Salt approaches the who-am-I? genius of The Long Kiss Goodnight. Always committed to her characters, Jolie did most of her own stunt work, too. Also, two vets finessed the screenplay: Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential) and Kurt Wimmer (The Thomas Crown Affair).
Why We're Not: We have to go back to 1994 to watch the last time Phillip Noyce handled this genre effectively (though, clearly he's made at least two wonderful human dramas since then). Will Wanted and Tomb Raider fans back Jolie as a Fed?
When a rogue Russian defector surrenders to the CIA, he has some interesting information to offer. Seems the former Soviet Union started a secret project years ago, creating convincing covert agents out of little children. Eventually, said kids were sent to the US, planted in preparation for something called "Day X". The first part of this plot involves the assassination of the visiting Russian President. The second involves seizing control of America's nuclear arsenal. As agency supervisor Ted Winter (Liev Schrieber) and bureau liaison Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) look on, the spy fingers the key component of this upcoming crime -- a sleeper double agent named Evelyn Salt (Jolie). Hoping to clear her name, our heroine goes on the lam, stopping to save her new husband (August Diehl) from the repercussions of her recent outing.
While it struggles to get started at first, Salt soon settles in as a wonderful, workmanlike actioner. It's not as flashy as Jolie's last "girl with a gun" epic Wanted, nor does it have much in the way of "wow" factor, but for a nimble, no-nonsense attempt at setting up the character and her mythology, it does the job. Screenwriter Kurt Wimmer (Law Abiding Citizen, Equilibrium) clearly believes he is crafting the new "Jane" Bond; his backstory heavy narrative often overwhelms the fisticuffs and firefights, and not enough is made of the whole Russian spy school/"Day X" dimension. Still, Noyce reaches back to his days directing Jack Ryan thrillers and comes up with a combination of stunts and sentiment. We are supposed to sympathize with Salt, even when she is doing unspeakable, unpatriotic things. Thanks to the performance by Jolie, such a stance is easy to accept.
Though the actress is perhaps better known as tabloid fodder than a consistent commercial draw, the bow-lipped beauty gets a great deal to work with in the persona of Evelyn Salt. Jolie gets to disguise herself as a man, manhandle a barge full of Commies, fall in love, and struggle to stop the President from pushing the button. Of course, just to keep things honest, she also leaps across crowded highways on the backs of trucks and scales the sides of a tall apartment building with ease. Don't come to the many set-pieces looking for invention: Noyce films everything in shaky cam close-up, occasional long shots vaguely helping to establish villains and viability. Some of the best clashes are one on one, as when Jolie takes on an angry Ejiofor or a skeptical Schriber.
While it definitely could have packed more pizazz, especially when you consider the pop culture diva in the lead, Salt remains solid and more than serviceable. What it lacks in complexity it makes up for with sheer stupid fun. Naturally, the ending sets us up for even more Salt adventures (after all, she has a vendetta the size of Siberia to settle). As long as Jolie gets the right people behind her, this is one super spy you'll be glad to follow wherever she goes.