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Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005)

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 06/10/05 00:10:18

"Pretty people making things go boom."
3 stars (Just Average)

“Mr. & Mr. Smith” is a film about a married couple struggling with the fact that the excitement and spice has gone out of their six-year-marriage. Of course, since it is a big-budget summer extravaganza designed to pack multiplexes, the couple is portrayed by two of the hottest faces on the planet–Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie–and their preferred form of therapy is to try to kill each other while expensive scenery blows up real good all around them. Sure, it may sound a bit extreme but I suppose that over-the-top fistfights and the occasional car chase are preferable to sitting on a couch opposite the likes of Dr. Phil.

After a prologue illustrating how John (Pitt) and Jane (Jolie) met and immediately sparked in Colombia, the film cuts to their agonizingly banal domestic routine–boring suburban parties, his-and-hers bathroom sinks and arguments over the new curtains in the living room. What they don’t know–although it is information that presumably every person in the theater possesses–is that the two have more in common with each other than they suspect. Both are, in fact, highly-trained assassins for rival government agencies who travel the globe and kill fascinating people. The problem is that they have each succeeded so completely at creating an ordinary facade in order to live a normal life off the clock that they have all but choked all the life out of their marriage–they are so stuck in their routine that they hardly acknowledge each other anymore and when they do, their outwardly bland conversations are laced with tinges of annoyance.

Things change when both are hired by their respective employers to go to Mexico in order to wipe out Benjamin Danz (Adam Brody, essentially playing the same character that he does on “The O.C.”) before he can testify in an upcoming trial. Not knowing each other’s identities, John and Jane spend so much time trying to remove each other from the scene that the hit itself is botched. Before long, each discovers that the other was the second assassin and they are ordered by their superiors (who presumably know nothing of their relationship) to tie up the loose ends in the messiest way possible. After a tense dinner, where the table seems to have more knives than a cutlery store, things boil over and each stomps off into the night–Jane to her own all-female death squad, which seems to be where the D.E.B.S. go after graduation, and John to the couch of best pal Eddie (Vince Vaughn), whose views on women are not the most helpful.

As the film progresses, the screenplay by Simon Kinberg follows the rules of the relationship picture by finding an action-film equivalent for the key moments. They return to the restaurant where he first proposed to her, but he slams her around the dance floor in an especially violent rendition of the tango and she slips a bomb in his jacket. (“It was just a little one.”) John confronts Jane at her office and much structural damage ensues. Finally, they return to the home that is the epicenter of their martial discord and they vent all of their frustrations, albeit with rocket launchers instead of drunken recriminations, and discover to their astonishment that a.) there is still a spark between them after all and b.) that there are plenty of people who want to extinguish their sparks once and for all.

The premise of “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” sounds funny, I guess, but the problem with the screenplay is that it is all premise and no follow-through. Once the idea of a heavily armed marital conflict is established, there are no further twists on the material. The first half of the film maintains an effective balance between visual pyrotechnics and genuine wit–the first fight scene between John and Jane is a clever mixture of physical and emotional violence that ends with a car crash that, for once, is actually very funny because it is done in an understated manner that catches you off-guard. However, the second half, with the exception of a car chase that manages to work in such oddball elements as a SUV and an especially bathetic Air Supply tune amidst the vehicular carnage, suddenly dispenses with all of the wit and charm as it allows the second-unit guys to come in and do their stuff. Even the outsize personalities of Pitt and Jolie wind up being all but forgotten as bullets fly and buildings collapse.

It is a shame because when the film does work, it has a quirky, slap-happy vibe (courtesy of director Doug Liman, whose credits include such fare as “Go” and “The Bourne Identity”) that is kind of refreshing. Although I have a sneaky suspicion that the film might have played better with a couple of more ordinary-looking actors who might better represent a mundane marriage–for some reason, the notion of Paul Giamatti and Hope Davis reuniting here tickles my fancy–Pitt and Jolie are admittedly inspired choices. While Jolie is capable of better, more challenging work, she gives a sly performance in which she is able to equally deploy her sense of humor, her devastating sexiness and her fearlessness towards action sequences (there hasn’t been an American actress who has looked this comfortable in a balls-to-the-wall action context since Sigourney Weaver stopped doing the “Alien” films). Pitt, who has always excelled in roles where he gets to mock his pretty-boy persona (“Fight Club,” which gets a strange shout-out here, being perhaps the best example), is also quite good in a part that subverts many action-stud notions–not only does he get his butt handed to him by a woman in many fights, he is also more than willing to fight back just as viciously–and scores a lot of laughs with throwaway lines which may not sound like much on paper (“Web of lies!”) but which are hilarious in the context of the scene. And while he plays the same character that he does in most of his films, Vince Vaughn also score big laughs as Pitt’s sleazo buddy, a guy who can take a simple ice-cream order and make it sound like the most depraved thing in the world.

I don’t really have a lot of enthusiasm for “Mr. & Mrs. Smith”–the early scenes promise something that the final scenes can’t quite deliver–but I do have a certain amount of affection for it; it is impossible to completely dislike a film where a kiss-off line delivered before the inevitable violence is, “Those new curtains were hideous!” If you approach it simply as a goof that could be described as the most impossibly glamorous version of the old “Spy vs. Spy” comic that used to appear in “Mad,” I guess it kind of works. However, it could have been so much more–especially with the potent combination of Jolie, Pitt and Liman–that it is hard to see “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” as anything other than a mildly entertaining film that should have been so much more.

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