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Mr. and Mrs. Smith   B-

20th Century Fox / Regency Enterprises

Year Released: 2005
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Doug Liman
Writer: Simon Kinberg
Cast: Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Vince Vaughn, Adam Brody, Kerry Washington, Keith David, Chris Weitz, Rachael Huntley, Peter Lavin.

Review by Rob Vaux

When the breakup of a major Hollywood couple is laid at a movie's feet, it's hard to judge that movie on merit alone. People will likely go to Mr. and Mrs. Smith as much out of Brad 'n' Angie curiosity as for the film itself, which is thin and breezy and silly good fun. It achieves that mostly on the backs of stars Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, who became an item during the shoot, and whose chemistry drives this vehicle from beginning to end. They're clearly into each other and they love performing together, for which the film should be eternally grateful.

The structure is almost embarrassingly slight, with a high-concept premise providing a basic first, second, and third act. John and Jane Smith (Pitt and Jolie) are elite assassins living secret lives apart from each other. At home, their marriage is dull and joyless, but in the field they have a lifestyle that would make James Bond green with envy. Jane is painstakingly methodical, planning her hits with care and leaving nothing to chance. John, on the other hand, plays it by ear, relying on hunches and instinct to feel his way through. The one-joke setup earns its keep in the amusing little details, which director Doug Liman delivers with deceptive nonchalance. He paints the first 40 minutes as a comedy of contrasts, with the Smiths' fashionably sterile house and vacuous neighbors forming a self-imposed prison from which killing people for money is a blessed escape. Their subconscious attraction is stymied by the fact that they can't tell each other what they do -- each considers his/her mate an innocent suburbanite, to be kept in the dark for his/her own safety. Naturally, their marriage is slowly withering.

The middle third takes all that pent-up energy and sets it loose, as the pair simultaneously discovers what really goes on when their spouse walks out the door, and are subsequently ordered to eliminate each other. At first aghast at the mutual betrayal, they use the ensuing conflict to act out those "I loved him so I had to kill him" fantasies that we've all had at one time or another. Liman plays this section off well with the earlier scenes, filtering a Spy vs. Spy zaniness through traditional marital spats (John complains about the new drapes just before Jane drops him down an elevator shaft). Their homicidal efforts awaken a newfound passion, and the zest with which the two go about their task suggests that an exchange of automatic-weapons fire may be just what these kids need to save their relationship.

None of it hits very hard and Liman takes care to keep the action scenes deft. The car chases and gunfights display a flair for creativity, at least early on, and while the mayhem is intense, it's definitely of the cartoonish variety. The spectacle of the Smiths destroying their beautiful house in a hail of bullets is amazingly cathartic (much like a similar motif in Danny DeVito's infinitely darker War of the Roses). Composer John Powell delivers a tango-heavy musical score that contributes greatly to the mood, and at the top of it all sit Jolie and Pitt, flashing those million-dollar smiles and daring us to say no to them. The fact that they're apparently nutso in love may add to the film's bottom line, but it also brings an energy to Mr. and Mrs. Smith above and beyond the tabloid headlines.

It also carries the film through the inevitable rough spots. Though there's nothing overtly wrong with the production, it clearly doesn't have a thought in its pretty little head, and the pure cotton candy of it all becomes exasperating after awhile. This is especially true in the finale, which runs out of gas midway through and suggests that the filmmakers didn't really know how to end things properly. It's forgivable largely because the fluffy rewards outweigh the equally fluffy mistakes. Mr. and Mrs. Smith doesn't need much to reach the finish line. Its stars are hot, its script is funny, and its guns make really loud noises. It succeeds because it knows how to make the most of its karmic good fortune.

Review published 06.06.2005.

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