In the annals of big-budget Hollywood movies — if, indeed, there are people retentive of such annals – Mr. and Mrs. Smith is likely to be remembered chiefly for the tabloid coverage surrounding the alleged off-screen coupling of its on-screen couple, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. But leashing it beside such mangled mutts as Gigli and Proof of Life would be a bit unfair, for the movie, while far from a masterpiece, is no dog — at least, not by the standards of what’s shaping up to be a lackluster year at the movies.
By now you undoubtedly know that Pitt and Jolie portray Joe and Jane Smith, clandestine assassins who work for competing (and nameless) agencies. The affluent, bored husband and wife have kept their lethal professions a secret from each other, but that changes when their paths cross over a job that both of them bungle. As a result, John and Jane are assigned to kill one another.
Like the song says, it’s a thin line between love and hate. Mr. and Mrs. Smith is at its cleverest when it riffs on the little secrets that whittle away at marital bliss. Perhaps the secrets harbored by the Smiths involve more of a body count than do those of most couples (we hope), but the resulting detachment and ennui isn’t so alien. And so beneath the silliness is a parable of marriage that actually resonates.
Well, it resonates some. Simon Kinberg’s screenplay doesn’t exactly break new ground exploring post-coitus rage. Pictures such as Prizzi’s Honor and The War of the Roses boasted much more cutting satire, but Kinberg excels at witty double meanings. “I missed you today,” John tells his wife at the dinner table. “I missed you, too,” she responds wryly. Such moments help make up for Kinberg’s weirdly stale depiction of domestic matrimony. With its post-work martinis, sniping over new drapes and the like, Mr. and Mrs. Smith ‘s dated take on suburbia is dangerously close to that of the God-awful Stepford Wives remake).
When Mr. and Mrs. Smith does deliver the goods for summer popcorn entertainment, most of the credit goes to director Doug Liman. As he proved with Go and The Bourne Identity, Liman is among a handful of filmmakers today who can inject humor into action sequences without it seeming forced. Mr. and Mrs. Smith is hardly flawlessly paced — it takes too long to get started and it overstays its welcome one shootout too many — but there are some nifty set pieces, particularly the Smiths’ no-holds-barred destruction of their stainless steel designer kitchen.
As for the performers, let’s just say that Pitt and Jolie have a real and tangible on-screen chemistry. Did they knock boots during shooting? My money is on: You bet your ass, they did. Acting, schmacting. Pitt is a fine actor when he feels like it, but here he doesn’t have to do much more than sleepwalk.
Jolie is slightly more impressive, and not just ’cause she has a few scenes decked out in a tight leather skirt and fishnets. The woman might be a loon and a half, but she gives a whole new definition to sexy.