This two-month-old Salt trailer is highly engaging, well-cut, an expert sell. But what’s the pitch exactly? I understand about Angelina Jolie‘s Evelyn being a spy who’s been wrongly-fingered as a Russian mole and has to go on the lam, etc. And I love the acrobatics and the CG (it looks much less “animated” now) and her sexy black-haired wig. And I can feel a certain authority between the frames.

But boil it down to basics and Salt, it seems to me, is gourmet comfort food — a high-class, high-impact, super-costly, skillfully made action thriller that does that cool thing we’ve all seen before, only differently this time.

The questions are (a) “how differently?” and (b) is it strong enough in terms of general wow-ness and holy shit-ness to compete with Chris Nolan‘s Inception, which will open only a week before Salt‘s 7.23 debut?

The marketing problem that Sony faces is that the smart audience has already decided that Inception is some kind of imaginative game-changer, and that Salt has to somehow position itself so that it’s not seen as chasing Inception‘s tail. It has to show everyone that it has its own muscle and panache and energy field and dance moves.

How do you get that idea across? I don’t know, but one obvious option at this stage is to start showing it to certain conversation-starters and taste-makers. It may not seem fair or fitting, but the fact is that Salt and Inception are major adrenaline-drivers with big-name directors (Phillip Noyce, Chris Nolan) and highly talented star casts (Jolie, Liev Schreiber, “Chewy” Ejiofor, Leonardo DiCaprio, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, etc.) and which have cost their respective studios (Sony and Warner Bros.) huge amounts of money to produce and sell, and which are opening with seven days of each other.

That’s close enough to feel each other’s body heat, to smell each other’s breath.

That’s no small concern on either side of the equation, but the current reality is that Inception seems to have managed a better job of pre-selling itself to ubers and early adopters. My sense of things right now is that Inception is regarded as something people have to see, and that Salt is something that might be pretty good. The ball is now in Sony’s court. They need to somehow punch up the pizazz and raise the anticipation.

I threw this montage video in because it summarizes that high-end action current that I was trying to describe earlier. We all enjoy this kind of thing when done well. The yea-nay decisions come down to “what’s different?,” “what’s special?” and “what’s unusually cool about this latest one?”