Putting the two sexiest humans on the planet in the same movie is a no-brainer, and with Bourne Identity director Doug Liman at the helm there was no way Mr. and Mrs. Smith was going to be terrible. However, though screenwriter Simon Kinsberg’s script scores with sharp, witty dialogue that plays nimbly off the great chemistry between the film’s physically stunning leads, the story itself never quite goes far enough to lift the film beyond the realm of fun and forgettable.
The premise is simple enough: think War of the Roses meets True Lies. John Smith (Brad Pitt) is a spy and hasn’t told his wife Jane (Angelina Jolie). Jane doesn’t know John sneaks out at night to play assassin, because she’s busy doing the same. After years of marriage, their once hot and heavy romance has grown stale as in Jane’s words, “the space between us fills up with all the things we don’t say to one another”. The film opens with a surprisingly engaging therapy montage where John incorrectly pegs the length of their relationship at five or six years, much to Jane’s chagrin. Kinsberg’s script is in no rush to get to the killing, and spends plenty of time on chuckle-worthy little sequences like this while it drifts towards the payoff: all out war between husband and wife.
Eventually, as we knew they would, the pair discover each other’s secret lives at competing spy agencies. Directed by their respective organizations to terminate one another they begin an assassination campaign in the living room. It starts out tentatively at first, with neither sure how far to take it. But things quickly escalate into a vicious bloodbath of shotguns, car collisions, and exploding elevators.
Though the battling spouses subject matter is similar, Mr. and Mrs. Smith lacks the downbeat sensibility of War of the Roses, leaving our not so happy couple a path to reconciliation as they predictably team up against the shadow operations pulling their strings. It’s here that Liman’s movie could have gone to pieces, with the Smiths’ inevitable partnership evoking traumatic memories of the failed Antonio Banderas vehicle Ecks vs Sever. After all, the fun is in watching Pitt and Jolie go at it, not in some half-cocked romance.
I’d prefer the movie without a happy ending team-up, but to pacify a wider audience you’ve almost got to go for it. Not to worry, Kinsberg’s highly tuned comedic dialogue pulls the film out of the fire by keeping the blistering husband and wife conflict chugging whether or not they’re shooting at the same target. The film may not have the guts to stay truly dark, but the script deserves credit for finding ways to keep the Smiths arguing even while they’re reconciling. Part of that’s simply the chemistry of Pitt and Jolie, who put together a satisfyingly antagonistic relationship founded on years of boredom and mistrust. Their best scene comes in the midst of a mini-van chase down the highway, where the two break down the lies they’ve been telling one another. “I told you I saw him on Fantasy Island!” shouts John after Jane admits that her kindly father is actually a hired actor. The two bicker like any damaged married couple, it’s only the subject matter and the bullet riddled setting that differ.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t Angelina Jolie’s path back to award winning acting. It’s another throwaway action movie for her, the sort of thing she can do in her sleep. I miss the days when she was a brilliantly talented actress, and plan to keep looking for her to return to heady stuff like Gia. Until she wakes up and starts turning down massive paychecks, at least she’s landed in a movie that works.
It’s interesting to note that while for most of its running time Mr. and Mrs. Smith pops with a lot of energy, it fades out at the end with a bit of a whimper. That’s a problem shared with Liman’s other action picture, The Bourne Identity and something he needs to get over if he’s ever going to make anything better. Still, for the most part Liman holds the film steady, , capably mixing his comfortable high-energy style with Kinsberg’s light and entertaining wit. Mr. and Mrs. Smith is this year’s Italian Job or Bourne Identity, only with a little more comedy thrown in. Check it off as another nice, mid-sized action movie that’ll please audiences and make a nice showing at the box office, only to be forgotten a few months later. There’s nothing wrong with a little shallow entertainment, and Mr. and Mrs. Smith is buoyant enough to deliver.