Directed by: Doug Liman
Starring: Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Vince Vaughn, Kerry Washington, Adam Brody, Chris Weitz
As slick a piece of high-concept star vehicle as you could hope for, Mr. and Mrs. Smith would be a lot slicker if it was shorn of about 20 minutes of what is finally a ponderous running time. The last act not only drags on forever, but manages to be strangely inconclusive at the same time.
Setting aside -- for the moment -- any reservations about a romantic comedy featuring a pair of cold-blooded hit men (or perhaps hit persons, since one of them is female), Mr. and Mrs. Smith simply doesn't know when or how to quit.
Somewhat arrogantly, if not without some justification, the filmmakers seemed to have thought that the combined star power of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie rendered inessential the need for a coherent narrative, basic structure and an actual resolution. And it's definitely the combined star power, not to mention scads of free publicity concerning their real-life romance (or lack thereof), that's being banked on, since Jolie's last eight movies ranged from box-office disappointments to fiascoes that made one wonder if the mere presence of her name was guaranteed to empty every theater in the civilized world.
In any case, it seems improbable that anyone involved was expecting much out of Simon Kinberg's (xXx: State of the Union) script. A cast-off from his student days, the screenplay was written as his thesis at Columbia; assuming he graduated, this is further evidence of the dubious value of film school. It was never intended to actually be made, but here it is, for better and worse.
The premise -- as you certainly know by now -- has John (Pitt) and Jane (Jolie) Smith, a bored married couple who, unbeknownst to each other, are both actually world-class assassins. When they find this out (after being assigned to kill each other), the resulting (literal) battle of the sexes rekindles that old spark and livens up their marriage. Basically, it's a reworking of a very old romantic-comedy staple -- the married couple who split up and then fall back in love -- that dates back to a 1920s Arthur Richman play, The Awful Truth, which was filmed twice before finding its classic incarnation as a star vehicle for Cary Grant and Irene Dunne in 1937.
The same essential concept fuels His Girl Friday (Grant and Rosalind Russell), The Philadelphia Story (Grant and Katharine Hepburn), and, in fact, the Alfred Hitchcock oddity Mr. and Mrs. Smith (Robert Montgomery and Carole Lombard). The difference here is that the exchanges of barbed dialogue are replaced with bullets, bombs and bludgeons.
Abstractly, this approach makes a certain amount of sense, as a hint of physical violence was always around the edges of screwball comedy (e.g., Grant pushing Hepburn in the face in The Philadelphia Story). In practice ... well, that's another matter.
Apparently, we're supposed to feel all fuzzy and warm about two people who practice wholesale murder for a living, and for whom trying to kill each other is a huge turn-on. If we do, it's either because we can take none of this seriously, or because the line between sex and violence has ceased to exist in our minds. Let's hope it's the former.
After all, this isn't actually a black comedy like Prizzi's Honor or War of the Roses. It's a featherweight confection that uses murder as nothing more than a silly giggle. Without Pitt and Jolie to gloss things over, the movie's inherent nastiness would be painfully obvious. Even with them, there's an undercurrent to scenes where the bodies just keep on piling up that no amount of cool can cover. And there's no way that the stars' cool or charm can overcome the silliness of a plot that has them unable to hit the broadside of a soundstage when they're shooting at each other, but capable of deadly accuracy in every other instance.
Still, it's their star quality that keeps the film fairly effective as bubble-headed entertainment, but it's never anything more than that -- and sometimes it's rather less. Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, intense action, sexual content and brief strong language.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke