The film is suitable summer action material with an intriguing premise about Soviet sleeper cells tucked away in the States, Angie a CIA operative who may be among them. There are rough-n-tumble car chases, imposing guys in business suits firing their pistols sideways, and La Jolie kicking some serious ass. I was hesitant about the picture once I heard it was directed by Phillip Noyce, whose blockbuster action movies veer toward the clunky and staid (Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, The Saint), whereas his modest efforts (Dead Calm, Rabbit-Proof Fence) have a modicum of quality. And then there was Sliver, an unfortunate waste of top-drawer trash (and Sharon Stone), Noyce delivering what can accurately be described as the worst film Roman Polanski never made.
Had Salt starred anyone other than Angie, I doubt it would’ve risen above mediocrity. She remains a formidable presence, lanky and athletic, drop-dead gorgeous with the right couture, but Noyce grants her little room to expand her part. The toughness, humor and clarity of the character she played in last year’s vastly superior (and far more fun) Wanted is gone; save for a few opening scenes where she’s allowed to breathe, Noyce stifles Evelyn Salt as a generic movie cop. And, on a purely personal note, given one of my erotic fetishes, I was alarmed that the scenes of her running barefoot failed to spark my libido. Once she kicked off her pumps, I figured I was in for an arousing treat. But Noyce can be humorless, and childishly innocent of those psychological shenanigans our erogenous zones can play.
This is the kind of script choice Angie’s frequently made that seems to consciously avoid depth and complication. She’s one of my favorites (there are moments in Gia and Girl Interrupted that stand without peer), but a character with a richer personality and less acumen with assault weapons would’ve been welcome here. Her upcoming movie with Johnny Depp, The Tourist, appears headed in that direction, and advance shots of that film’s wardrobe are to die for.