Mr. and Mrs. Smith (United States, 2005)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The problem with Mr. and Mrs. Smith is that it's really two movies in one. The first is a sly comedy/thriller worthy of Hitchcock, and the other is a big, noisy summer action flick. The marriage of these two, like that of the title characters, is tempestuous, with each side in a constant struggle for dominance. When Mr. and Mrs. Smith is smart and sassy, it's a lot of fun. But when it's loud and dumb (which is too often for my taste), it's mindless and a little tedious. This is mediocre, forgettable entertainment. It doesn't really satisfy, but you probably won't exit the theater feeling gypped.

The premise is simple enough: John and Jane Smith (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie) are a happily married couple who work as assassins for rival firms. Neither is aware of the other's occupation, and, to the outside world, they look like a traditional, upper-class suburban couple, albeit without the dog and the 2.5 kids. In fact, to keep the spark in their marriage of five or six years, they visit a marriage counselor. Then, one unfortunate day, a client double-books a hit, with John and Jane unknowingly assigned to eliminate the same target. When their take-down schemes prove to be incompatible, they lose the mark and discover a few things about each other. The resulting domestic strife makes the events of War of the Roses seem tame by comparison.

When director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) focuses on the characters and their non-traditional relationship, he's on safe ground. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie smolder, and their chemistry (regardless of whether it did or did not expand beyond the screen) couldn't be better. Whether they're shooting at each other, tossing around double entendres, or ripping each other's clothing off, Mr. and Mrs. Smith's two stars are sexy and magnetic. Foreplay for the Smiths involves not only disrobing, but disarming. And Simon Kinberg's screenplay gives the actors plenty of delicious lines to chew on.

Unfortunately, the script also calls for too much action, and that's where everything falls apart. Although Liman tries to juice things up by using atypical camera angles, all this does is to lend an artistic flavor to a series of otherwise banal explosions, shoot-outs, and car chases. The film has so much action padding that it becomes tiresome after a while. Ten or fifteen years ago, this sort of thing might have been cutting edge, but the bar has been raised so many times that not even a car racing the wrong way on a freeway can generate more than a half-hearted shrug.

The film also doesn't have the decency to give us a legitimate payoff. The film just… ends. There's a big, violent action scene, complete with John Woo-inspired choreography and more ammunition than Rambo ever laid eyes on , but the opponents are faceless. There's no uber villain to rub out in a climactic showdown. And, the more you think about it (I know, I know… not something we're supposed to do with this kind of movie), the less sense it all makes. I mean, how can this really be over when it's over? What about all the loose ends that the interior decorator and marriage counselor can't resolve?

For the most part, the movie belongs to Pitt and Jolie. Vince Vaughn and Kerry Washington play their respective best friends/cohorts, but they don't have a lot of screen time. Vaughn makes the best of his. This may be the actor's most entertaining performance in a long time. He has his share of funny moments, but Liman wisely keeps him in check. Washington doesn't fare as well. Unlike Vaughn, she doesn't have a single memorable scene.

This is one of those films where the pluses and minuses almost exactly counterbalance each other. For every scene that works because of the snappy dialogue or the Pitt/Jolie rapport, there's a drawn-out action scene that causes everything to grind to a halt. Mr. and Mrs. Smith's need for blockbuster pyrotechnics undermines the black comedy (there's plenty of that) and the offbeat romance, both of which are strong enough to form the foundation of a quieter motion picture. The only legitimate tension in the story is between Mr. and Mrs. Smith. When they are turned into superheroes fighting against teams of nameless, clad-in-black foes, the time has come to tune out. It's too bad that Liman didn't streamline his production better and leave the fireworks for the fourth of July.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith (United States, 2005)

Director: Doug Liman
Cast: Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Vince Vaughn, Kerry Washington
Screenplay: Simon Kinberg
Cinematography: Bojan Bazelli
Music: John Powell
U.S. Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Run Time: 2:03
U.S. Release Date: 2005-06-10
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1