A couple who can't agree on whether they've been together five or six years both unconvincingly peg their happiness level at an '8' to an unseen marriage councilor. John (Brad Pitt) and Jane (Angelina Jolie) get some spice added to their lives when they both have a bad day, each thwarted from accomplishing their job by an unidentified rival, then discover they're each other's nemesis - assassins for opposing corporations. When they are each tasked with terminating the other, things get even hotter for "Mr. & Mrs. Smith."
The Pitt/Jolie tabloid 'are they or aren't they' factor isn't about to be dampened by the sexy banter ('Baby, you couldn't find the button with both hands and a map') and sizzling body language the costars of "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" enjoy in this otherwise quickly forgettable effort from director Doug Liman ("Swingers," "The Bourne Identity"). "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" isn't the shameless rip off that was "Ocean's Twelve," but it's saving grace is the same playful movie star wattage Pitt flashed in that film. Liman does achieve three delicious set pieces and Vince Vaughn provides some amusing support, but eventually the movie topples over from its own weight.
The marriage counseling sessions which bookend the film provide a segue for the Smith's 'meet cute' flashback in Bogota, where each is seeking refuge from police looking for lone foreigners. Cinematographer Bojan Bazelli ("The Ring") makes the teal, burgundy and greens of this scene surrealistically vibrant in contrast to the dollar bill green which permeates the rest of the film, perhaps a visual comment on how materialism ruins relationships. The courtship is quick and flip, emphasizing the competitiveness between the couple, before the domestic blahs are introduced with the disagreement over a new pair of drapes (Jolie hangs them balancing on the edge of a chair in stiletto heels looking like a Cirque du Soleil performer). The dual deception is also economical, a cross cutting between the two both slipping out to perform hits at the same hotel - both end with a stylish grace note, Pitt a flippant bit of wit, Jolie gliding down the hotel's exterior using gear disguised as a handbag.
The film's funniest scene also marks the midpoint. John and Jane are still pretending during one of her punctual formal dinners for two. Gradually their conversation becomes more barbed until John tests Jane's physical prowess by dropping a bottle of red wine, which she catches with abnormal ease. The ensuing escape entails the two climbing into and out of a moving car (slick stunt work) which eventually plummets over an embankment as Pitt wails 'We need to talk' out the rear window. A later cease fire in a hotel bar leads to a sexy dance disarmament, but "Fight Club" takes on an orgiastic new meaning when the two cross paths at their elegantly appointed home.
Once the duo decide to join forces against their own employers, "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" turns into a mundane, loud summer action movie. There are car chases and shootouts, the climatic one, in a domestics store (how subtle). Screenwriter Simon Kinberg ("xXx: State of the Union") can't work the couple's reintroduction to one another after years of lies, his only real idea being equating their number of hits with the way normal people compare former lovers.
As noted earlier, Pitt turns in a muted version of his "Oceans' Twelve" Rusty Ryan and Jolie is utterly believable playing with big guns, a real female action star. Vince Vaughn ("Be Cool") is a hoot as John's best friend Eddie, a jittery, paranoid momma's boy, but Kerry Washington ("Ray") is a washout as Jasmine, his counterpart.
The production is slick, particularly in the contrast between the Smiths' tasteful Colonial and Eddie's ratty and outdated mom's house, although Jane's New York headquarters look a little too 1960's sci-fi. Editor Michael Tronick ("S.W.A.T.") tosses in a few funny cuts, notably a lewd wink Pitt appears to make at the camera and the final scene's crosscutting between explosions and elevator muzak.
"Mr. & Mrs. Smith" is an attempted high tech update of yesteryear's urbane screwball comedies. It works for a while, then Liman lets the gadgetry overtake the repartee.
John and Jane Smith (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie) sit before an unseen marriage counselor. John explains that their dull, routine-driven marriage of five years (“Six,” she immediately corrects him) is on the rocks. But, unknown to the couple is the secret life of each: they are both hired assassins working for competing secret agencies. A bad marriage, it turns out, is the least of their problems when they learn that they have been hired to kill each other in “Mr. & Mrs. Smith.”
Director Doug Liman made a huge leap from his indie-style films, “Swingers” and “Go,” to big budget, big Hollywood films with “The Bourne Identity” – a leap that very few filmmakers can claim to have made. Following his success with the film adaptation of Robert Ludlum’s spy thriller, he has eschewed directing in favor of the role of executive producer until now.
Liman is back in the helmer’s saddle once again and it is no holds barred. Besides having an obviously huge budget – the shootouts alone would make the old John Woo proud with the plethora of firepower utilized – he has the combined uber star power of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie as his leads.
Everyday, when John arrives home (after a hard day of contract killing) he asks Jane, “How was your day?” And, every day, she has some banal answer like “I got curtains” (even though she, too has had a rough one bumping off her assignments). You see, each thinks the other is involved in some innocuous job – he owns a construction firm, she’s a software expert – and blithely head out each morning to fulfill their deadly contracts. Professionally, John and Jane both have an exciting, profitable life, but, personally, there is nothing but a boring marriage. Things change, for the latter, when they are both assigned to the same hit and botch it. Neither is prepared for the next assignment - she is his target and he is hers! – but it sure is the spark that may save their marriage. If it doesn’t kill them first.
Simon Kinberg’s original screenplay is a fast-paced shoot-‘em-up that, at its heart, is the story of a failing marriage pulled back together through adversity. Things roll along in a uniform manner as the plot plays out – trying to juggle a bad marriage while each has a secret career; carrying out their assignments while trying to maintain a “normal,” but fake, day-to-day image; learning of the other’s true identity; trying to save their lives and, in the end, their stalled marriage. This is punctuated with copious shootouts where John and Jane join forces against impossible odds. True love will overcome any and all obstacles.
The production is as slick and Hollywood as can be. Liman uses tried and true images, such as the de riguer shots of three identically colored vehicles racing across some barren landscape not once, but thrice. It’s a nice looking image but one that has been done to death over the years. The action sequences are well handled and choreographed but are almost cartoonish in their execution. The bad guys come at our heroes one at a time, are all faceless killers who get their just rewards for their dastardly deeds. Eclectic veteran lenser, Bojan Bazelli (“Deep Cover,” “The Ring”), compliments the film’s fast-paced action with his sharp camerawork.
Performances behind the stars never get beyond the 2-D but Pitt and Jolie are enjoyable to watch. Vince Vaughn, in a small role as John’s still-living-with-his-mother business partner, gets to do some of the films comic relief that doesn’t involve the title couple’s constant bickering. “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” is a cute, action romance that benefits from its budget and stars. It’s not great cinema but is a pleasurable alternative to “Star Wars Episode 3.” I give it a B-.
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