Mr. & Mrs. Smith
Director : s Doug Liman
Screenplay : Simon Kinberg
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2005
Stars : Brad Pitt (John Smith), Angelina Jolie (Jane Smith), Vince Vaughn (Eddie), Adam Brody (Benjamin Diaz), Kerry Washington (Jasmine), Keith David (Father), Chris Weitz (Martin Coleman), Rachael Huntley (Suzy Coleman), Michelle Monaghan (Gwen)
Mr. and Mrs. Smith is premised on the not entirely incorrect notion that audiences will accept beautiful movie stars doing virtually anything as long as they look good doing it. The film gives us two prime specimens of movie star attractiveness in Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and sets them loose in a ridiculous comedy-action hybrid about a bored husband and wife whose faltering marriage is given a nitroglycerin-like kickstart when they discover that each has been secretly living a double life as a highly trained assassin.
The film has twin goals: to blow up as much stuff as possible and to ensure that Pitt and Jolie look as good as possible amid the chaos. The plot allows them to put their model good looks to use in a variety of couture, from Pitt’s finely cut suits and muscle-baring athletic gear to Jolie’s domesticated Ann Taylor-ish skirts and sweaters and the leather dominatrix outfit she uses to seduce and kill a wealthy mark. Never have bullet-proof vests looked so runway-worthy. When their entire house blows up at one point and they are throw into the yard in their underwear, Pitt and Jolie look like a couple of models after an explosion at an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog shoot.
Director Doug Liman attempts to graft the quirky humor he deployed so indelibly in Swingers (1996) and Go (1999) with the all-out action of his last film, The Bourne Identity (2002), to mixed results. There is clearly some intentional satire here, with the action sequences standing in as exaggerated versions of domestic discord, but there’s too much attention paid to the spectacle and not enough to what little substance there is.
Mr. & Mrs. Smith starts out extremely well, with a counseling session in which Pitt’s John Smith and Jolie’s Jane Smith address the camera directly as they awkwardly stumble through a marriage “tune-up.” It’s funny because it hits so exactly on the doldrums of a marriage that started in passionate heat and has since settled down into a too-familiar series of meaningless exchanges and well-worn routines.
These early scenes are especially fertile ground for Pitt, who has always been a gifted comedic actor who shines brightest when he’s not expected to be a superstar (the nadir of this tendency being, of course, Troy). In a recent Esquire column, Mike D’Angelo put eloquently what I’ve felt for years, at least since I saw Pitt’s brilliantly hilarious turn as a misguided stoner in True Romance (1993): “Pitt is a brilliant goofball prankster trapped in the body of a Greek god.” As the bored and boring husband, Pitt gets to engage his comic sensibilities by undercutting his good looks with vague muttering, awkward silences, and a seemingly insurmountable sense of utter confusion as to what he should be doing in his marriage. This cuts wonderfully against the grain of classical Hollywood masculine roles, in which the hero is always driving the narrative. Pitt plays befuddlement with great skill, which is ironic because he’s constantly being cast in roles in which he is supposed to project authority -- to be, in essence, the traditional Hollywood hero.
He does get to do some of that once Mr. & Mrs. Smith goes all Hong Kong on us and morphs from a goofy comedy of manners into an all-out, bullet-blazing action spectacle, and not surprisingly that is where the film starts to head downhill. It is buoyed, however temporarily, but Liman’s comic sensibilities, as he finds consistently perfect moments to throw in small quips and little asides, turning big-budget action violence into a backdrop for John and Jane’s marital squabbles. Unfortunately, as a structuring device, it is a bit slight, and the film starts to wear thin far too early.
Once John and Jane discover each other’s secret and are admonished by their respective employers to kill the other one within 48 hours, the film dives into suitably nasty territory as they unleash all their pent-up aggression and frustrations, culminating in an explosive catfight that rips their perfectly furnished suburban domicile to shreds. All that violence gets them hot and bothered, and they wind up getting it on amidst shards of broken glass and shattered furniture. After that, it’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith against what seems like the rest of the world, and the film drags on for about three action sequences too long. It should have quite= while it was ahead.
Copyright ©2005 James Kendrick
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