Mr. & Mrs. Smith

June, 2005, Thriller

Do American movies with summer debuts have to be completely devoid of subtly? The long hot days of June, July & August are always replete with big budget exercises in extravagantly choreographed destruction so that “young adult” audiences, (typically males age 18-25) don’t have to use their collective cerebellums to any great extent, but must these heavily-financed juggernauts provide so little wit and charm in the process? Director Doug Liman and screenwriter Simon Kinberg seem to think so as they steal from both Hitchcock’s l941 movie and the short-lived 1996 television series of the same name. Unfortunately, the old cliché, “third time’s a charm” doesn’t apply here at all.

Three years ago, Linman’s thriller The Bourne Identity displayed a good bit of uncharacteristic thoughtfulness for the thriller genre, presenting an intriguingly morose Matt Damon as a secret agent trying to find out why his friends were even more interested in doing him in than his enemies. In this outing, the director deploys two high-profile stars, lavish location sets and incredible amounts of pyrotechnics to no good purpose whatsoever, wasting cast and crew in the process. The film’s already a box-office success, but don’t let that fool you; this dopey exhibition of mediocrity steals shamelessly from so many different sources the title should be Mr.& Mrs. Re-Tread. 

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie play assassins who work for rival clandestine organizations. They meet cute in Bogotá, marry and settle into an apparently comfortable suburban life each with no knowledge of the other’s occupation. When circumstances put them in unwitting competition, their bosses first try to get them to kill each other; when that fails, a small army of Ninja-garbed killers is dispatched to finish both of them off. By the time the dust settles and the credits roll, you’ll have to rouse yourself from a well-deserved nap to know it’s time to leave the theater.

Linman begins well enough; an off camera marriage counselor throws questions at the Smiths, who are seated in overstuffed easy chairs directly in front of the camera. As one answers a specific probe, the other’s facial expressions and body language amusingly confirm their need for therapy. 120 minutes later, the director returns to this format to end his film. These cinematic book-ends, however, can’t elevate what’s gone on in between them.

Pitt’s an enigma as an actor; his handsome features and blond hair provide all the trappings of a matinee idol, but the material he frequently chooses --Meet Joe Black, The Mexican and Troy for example -- have often rendered his screen personality annoyingly bland. As the male half of this killing team, his comedic skills, (on perfect display as George Clooney’s low-keyed henchman in Ocean’s Eleven) fail him and he handles the action sequences unconvincingly. Jolie on the other hand, stunning in high fashion or dominatrix gear, is simply too much for him; Pitt’s overmatched from their first meeting. Despite wearing lips that look like liposuction in reverse, Jolie remains one of the most erotically-charged actresses in movies today; even her roles in a number of sub-par efforts, (Beyond Borders, Original Sin) fail to diminish her unique combination of intelligence and sexy femininity. By the end of the picture, her on-screen relationship with the handsome Pitt seems based on tolerance rather than romantic attraction.

Taking most of his plot from a reworking of the Arnold Schwarzenegger/Jamie Lee Curtis thriller True Lies and stealing his frenetic action/chase scenes from Quentin Tarantino, Linman’s efforts here look especially second-hand. Despite the obvious size of its budget, this bloated piece of escapism shouldn’t find a place on your summer viewing schedule. 

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