by Jeff Meyers
As roller coasters go, Mr. & Mrs. Smith isn't a bad ride. Featuring the most beautiful celebrity couple in the world, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, as rival husband-and-wife assassins, the film has been billed as War of the Roses meets True Lies. Unfortunately, this big, noisy and sometimes witty action flick is less the former and more the latter.
Director Doug Liman (Swingers, Go, The Bourne Identity) does his best to balance the cutting and clever interplay between his leads with the film's action scenes, but it's a losing battle. Hollywood, with its remarkably short attention span, is far more comfortable blowing shit up than building sophisticated stories or memorable characters. That's a shame, because Mr. & Mrs. Smith has some real meaty opportunities to skewer the competitive ambitions and professional egos that undermine today's upwardly mobile American marriage.
Pitt and Jolie play John and Jane Smith, a highly successful married couple living in a well-heeled New York City suburb. Working as assassins for rival firms, they hide their professions from one another while trying to keep the conjugal spark alive by attending couples counseling. Unfortunately, when a client double books a hit, John and Jane go after the same target and end up discovering each other's lethal secret. Suspicions of betrayal lead to high caliber weaponry, and the couple's domestic strife turns into World War III.
When Liman and screenwriter Simon Kinberg focus on the Smiths' marital tug-of-war, the film crackles with tension and humor. Pitt and Jolie rise above their made-for-the-tabloids romance to generate some real sexual chemistry, bouncing convincingly from sly duplicity to deadly one-upmanship to carnal attraction. The stars are clearly having a good time, savoring Kinberg's snappy dialogue with wicked glee. Too bad the script overdoses on less-than-thrilling action scenes. Liman, who's quickly proving to be a versatile and intelligent filmmaker, utilizes off-kilter shots and inventive camera angles, but there's no hiding the less-than-inspired car chases and tiresome shoot-outs. The script also fails to provide Pitt and Jolie with an identifiable foe or dramatic closure. The natural conclusion to this couple's deadly matrimonial tango would push the film into black comedy territory, and Hollywood balks at the idea. Instead, the script pits the couple against an endless procession of faceless enemies, followed up by an unconvincing happily ever-after finale; the story just ends with one big chaotic bang and an emotional whimper.
The supporting cast is surprisingly thin. Vince Vaughn and Kerry Washington play John and Jane Smith's respective confidants and cohorts, but they're underdeveloped. Vaughn is pretty entertaining, but Washington barely registers.
One doesn't look for impeccable logic or tightly woven plotlines in a film like this. Still some attention to story craft would help, as there's not much of a plot to hang this promising concept on. Though Pitt and Jolie's verbal showdowns and offbeat romance generate the film's greatest pyrotechnics, the action sequences grind everything to a halt. This may be one of the few examples of a big-budget action film where the stunts and effects are the least interesting part of the movie.
Jeff Meyers writes about film for MetroTimes. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.