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Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005) Print E-mail
Friday, 10 June 2005
If you think the title is on the coy side, you’re right—so’s the movie. What sold the movie was its premise and that Brad Pitt, one of the Mr. Wonderfuls of the day, had agreed to star. The premise: an ideal young married couple keep a big secret from one another—they’re each highly skilled government assassins, though neither is aware of the other’s job.

Supposedly, Simon Kinberg wrote this more as a sample than out of a conviction he could sell it, but sell it he did. The press material claims he wrote 100 drafts of the script before achieving perfection. If this is perfection, I’d hate to see what was rejected. Though the movie is not without its charms—including the two leads—and Doug Liman directs with a lot of style and energy, there’s very little plot here and even less characterization. But the most jolting lack is that the movie has no ending, no resolution, no windup. I don’t like to reveal the endings of movies, but I think it’s safe to say that at the end, there’s no reason to think our two heroes are out of the danger they’ve been faced with for most of the film. Mr. director man, all we want is a suggestion that they have at least a chance of living happily ever after. But no.

The movie was famously hard to bring to the screen. At first, Pitt’s costar was to be Nicole Kidman, but more work on the script meant she had to leave for “The Interpreter.” Angelina Jolie was ultimately recruited, then Pitt had to leave for “Ocean’s Twelve.” At last, Liman got what he needed—or at least enough of what he needed to turn in the picture. I guess there just wasn’t time to come up with even a hint of a resolution.

Anyway, the movie—not a remake of the Hitchcock film of the same title—opens with John and Jane Smith (I told you it was coy) talking with an off-screen marriage counselor. They’ve been married five (or six—they don’t agree) years, and they’ve hit a rough spot. They’re very well off, have a beautiful (and huge) house in the suburbs, and each thinks the other has a profitable, if vague, job somewhere in town.

But even when they first met five or six years ago in Latin America, we see by the weaponry each hastily hides from the other that they’re not quite what they seem. But they’re so besotted with one another that they drop their professional wariness and tumble into love. These opening scenes are among the best in the movie, funny, warm and sexy.

But a few years later they’re bored with each other. They each have nifty hiding places unknown to the other around that lavish house; John’s weapon and money stash is in a high-tech chamber under the garage, Jane’s is concealed in the stove. We follow them on separate missions and see how cleanly and skillfully they wipe out bad guys (and we get to see Angelina dressed as a dominatrix; Emma Peel lives). The script doesn’t bother to identify their agencies or to tell us why the bad guys need to be wiped out (there’s a few lines only); this is a fantasy, not even as realistic as your average James Bond movie.
Then they’re both assigned to take out the same target, and wind up interfering with each other. As soon as they realize the other is as skilled a killer as they are, their marital difficulties instantly meld with their professional rivalry and they set out to kill one another. They blow their house to pieces—and try to come up with convincing explanations for concerned neighbors—before they realize their love is bigger than their competitive streaks, partly because now, at last, they can actually tell each other the truth.

Only trouble is now they’re each targets for their own agencies.

That’s really all the plot there is, and it could have used more. There should have been some kind of complication before they discover the truth about one another, a hint perhaps of a power above them both that’s using them as pawns. (This idea does surface, but very late in the game.) As it is, their plunge into murderous rivalry is all too sudden, and highly unconvincing. Yes, again, this is a fantasy, not a drama, but motivation really shouldn’t be ignored to this degree. The movie feels very slight.

But the stars are a lot of fun, and some aspects of the basic (very basic) idea buoy the film through an elaborately staged car chase to the big shootout at the end in a Walmart-like shopping palace. Sometimes the married-couple idea pays dividends; trying to extract information from a captive leads to one Smith chastising the other “maybe it’s not a good idea to undermine me in front of the hostage.” In an elevator (with Muzak playing, natch, “The Girl from Ipanema”) they immediately relax into husband-and-wife normalcy, coming back to full-boogie spy status as soon as the doors open. Just like any modern young married couple, the Smiths have constant, brief squabbles, only here it’s during metal-scrunching car chases and high body count shootouts.

It’s all so light and airy that their opponents have no more realism than figures in a video game. The problem is that this also is true of the Smiths. Pitt and Jolie have a lot of witty charm and sex appeal, but they are given very little help by the script. Big-scale action scenes—at one point Jolie drops thirty stories down the side of a building, coming to a graceful, even stylish halt, exactly at street level—don’t compensate for lack of story and characters.

There’s hardly anyone else in the movie; Vince Vaughn is funny as a mama’s-boy agent who seems to be Pitt’s boss, but he shows up only occasionally. And Adam Brody is amusing as a high tech nerd who has big-deal secret information. But almost no one else gets a word in; this is the Brad and Angelina show.

It’s directed like a sumbitch; in “The Bourne Identity,” Liman surprised everyone by turning out a high-class, beautifully-produced and very satisfying adventure thriller, instantly establishing Matt Damon as an action star, however unlikely that prospect seemed going in. But here Liman is handicapped by an unsatisfactory script; he brings a lot of visual dazzle and wit to the lavishly-produced movie—it looks more expensive than “Revenge of the Sith”—but he and his likeable stars can only go so far.

“Mr. & Mrs. Smith” is entertaining most of the way, but runs out of steam about the same time it runs out of story. It’s a notch below the movie equivalent of the kind of novel you read on a beach vacation; it’s full of fizz, action and gorgeous people, but you end up wanting more.

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