- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 9, 2005

“Mr. & Mrs. Smith” opens with a casually played scene of upper-middle-class marital therapy. We see the titular couple from the perspective of an unseen counselor, who’s asking $250-an-hour questions such as “How long ago did you meet?” and “How often do you have sex?”

They exchange sly, self-conscious glances and barely contain smiles and titters. They, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, for those just crawling out from under rocks, have a fizzing chemistry — though it’s not immediately clear that chemistry has anything to do with the movie or their characters, who, unbeknownst to the other, are both assassins for hire.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith’s relationship, built on a foundation of professional lies, is supposed to be in crisis. But the last thing Mr. Pitt and Miss Jolie, their charisma and looks merged into some super-species of celebrity, could ever come across as is an unhappy couple. (The answer to that second question is “Not very” — try believing that for longer than it takes to blink.)

Turns out, the stars really don’t matter all that much in Doug Liman’s black-hearted romantic comedy (no relation to the 1941 Alfred Hitchcock movie of the same name), which is so glutted with guns and so dizzy with action choreography that it actually manages to overwhelm the gorgeous specimens of flesh that are Mr. Pitt and Miss Jolie. And it wastes the subtextual potential their rumored affair has generated.

Mr. Liman, an ex-indie who brought edgy style to “The Bourne Supremacy,” and screenwriter Simon Kinberg are desperately clever about not completely killing off the movie’s humanity. In a long sequence that includes a Fallujah-meets-New York firefight, an exploding house and a freeway chase, Mr. Pitt and Miss Jolie are stuck in their skivvies the entire time — just to help you stay, uh, focused amid the sound and fury.

John Smith and wife Jane pose as a blandly ordinary, he-golfs-she-cooks suburban couple, lending an “American Beauty”-like hostility to the movie that the filmmakers insist on right up ‘til the end. The Smiths do the “True Lies” dance toward each other as well as their neighbors. His cover: construction contractor. Hers: information technology expert.

In this movie, the hit jobs are context-free; we don’t know whom they’re killing or why. We know only that John works for a greaseball operation in the boroughs run by wisecracking Vince Vaughn, while Jane runs a sleek grrl-power operation from atop a Manhattan tower.

Up until the point when their cover is blown — the couple are contracted to off the same target in a prisoner transfer near the Mexican border — “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” is consistently witty. For a while, the “How was your day, honey?” irony of the thing works well. John keeps a weapons cache below the tool shed; Jane keeps hers in a secret compartment of the wall stove. After a day’s work, the two squabble over lights-out time in bed.

But the movie pretty much peaks after the Smiths are outed and ordered to kill each other, ensuing in a household battle royale straight out of “The War of the Roses” — only, this time, all the gunfire and SWAT-team acrobatics unleash pent-up sexual energies. After the ammo dries up and before the clothes fly, the Smiths resort to good, old-fashioned kicking and punching. Nothing like hand-to-hand combat to bring about a marital armistice, eh?

Trouble is, the Smiths’ bosses don’t fancy them working as a team. So the Smiths themselves become targets.

What’s the problem with their working together? They work for rival “companies.” Other than that, I have no idea.

The movie never bothers to establish the bad guys’ identities, which is admittedly hard to do when your protagonists are, you know, killers.

So the climax is just a bunch of faceless soldiers in a private army shooting at Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

Ultimately, they’re not worth caring about, not even on an ironic level.

Strike one for Brangelina.

**

TITLE: “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”

RATING: PG-13 (Action violence, sexuality, brief profanity)

CREDITS: Directed by Doug Liman. Produced by Lucas Foster, Akiva Goldsman, Eric McLeod, Arnold Milchan and Patrick Wachsberger. Written by Simon Kinberg. Cinematography by Bojan Bazelli. Original music by John Powell.

RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes

WEB SITE: www.mrandmrssmithmovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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