Mr. and Mrs. Smith Reviewed by Sam Osborn of www.samseescinema.com
Rating: 3.5 out of 4
Director: Doug Liman Screenplay: Simon Kinberg Cast: Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Vince Vaughn, Adam Brody MPAA Classification: PG-13 (sequences of violence, intense action, sexual content and brief strong language)
In a Summer season where ninety percent of the films revolve around pretty people shooting and/or having sex with one another, Mr. and Mrs. Smith almost seems like a parody of itself. In fact, that's what impresses me most about the film. It's a shameless pulp action thriller that's so self-referential that it turns itself into a kind of satiric and ridiculous comedy. The plot is a pointedly simple man vs. woman set up, the action is obviously abundant, and the leads are the two sexiest known actors is the world. In fact, I'm impressed that the corporate big wigs down at 20th Century Fox put this film through production. It's so pulpy and shameless in its approach that we can't help but have unbridled, Summer film fun.
The film opens at a marriage counseling office. Mr. and Mrs. Smith (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie) sit in front of a psychologist, awkwardly assuring him their marriage is running along as smoothly as it did five or six years ago (there's confusion as to how long it's actually been). From this little gem of a scene, we follow the couple back to their white collar house in the suburbs outside New York City. The two eat dinner, exchange a few sentences of dialogue, and each read books under the lamplight of their bedside tables, both hiding the fact that they're assassins for hire working under different agencies. Before heading off to a neighborhood party at the Coleman's house across the street, Mrs. Smith runs off to an S&M club to whip a big-time illegal arms dealer into shape. Mr. Smith, on the other hand, goes to play a fatal game of poker with some associates of his firm. Each return home and smile at the other, both wondering how the other gets through the normal workday in a real suburban lifestyle. But this calm ignorance of the other's secret career ends when Mr. and Mrs. are both assigned to the same hit. Identifying each other, their firms each give them 48 hours to eliminate the opposite hitman. If in 48 hours the opposing agent is still alive, the firm must cut loose the agent of their own. It's just standard procedure. To put it sweetly, this creates marital tension like you've never seen. Domestic abuse has never been so fun.
A film with this sort of set-up (one of shameless formula and potential for car chase sequences) has to be handled by the right director. In someone like Stephen Chow's hands (Shaolin Soccer, Kung Fu Hustle), Mr. and Mrs. Smith would be a slapstick action mess. Contrarily, in someone like David Fincher's hands (Fight Club, Se7eN) the film would take itself too seriously and miss the comedic side of its satire. Somehow, Doug Liman is perfect for the role of director. Coming off of the immensely successful Bourne Identity, Liman gives Mr. and Mrs. Smith a tone of controlled seriousness. The comedy is already embedded in the screenplay, so he thankfully decides to let the actors' natural charisma play it out. And on the action side of things, Liman doesn't over-dramatize the violence or attempt to brutalize his characters with inhuman acts. The action is played out as it was in The Bourne Identity; with controlled seriousness, meaning it's an essential element of the film that simply needs to be played out. There aren't thousands of cuts each lasting a fraction of a second, or too many CGI stunt doubles replacing human actors; Liman takes a back-seat and lets the film work itself out in its own pulp action way.
As much as we'd like to deny it, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are the driving force behind Mr. and Mrs. Smith's PR. Rumors and tabloid gossip aside, the two are no-brainers for their roles. I've come to look forward to all of Pitt's films simply because of his wonderful charismatic style. He rarely changes his approach to the way he plays his characters simply because they all call for charisma, and here it's superbly apparent. On Jolie's side of things, she was made to play the role of a housewife assassin. Liman's said they initially were looking into Nicole Kidman to play the part, but they settled for Jolie. That's right, settled. In my opinion, Jolie is the only option for Mrs. Smith.
Satire is a difficult thing to find in a Summer action film, but Mr. and Mrs. Smith pulls it off flawlessly. There's a great sequence, a car chase sequence actually, that initially comes to mind when talking about the film's satire. The Smith's are running away from seemingly dozens of hired hitmen all out for their heads. The bad guys are in BMW's and the Smith's are in nothing less than the Colemans' minivan. Swerving down the highway, the Smith utilize every feature of the minivan to their assassin killing needs. In one part, a baddie jumps into the minivan through a side sliding door only to be thrown out the other side by way of the newly standard second sliding door. "That comes in handy," says Mr. Smith after his quasi-suburban stunt.
Between the wry satire on the suburban life, the blistering action sequences, and Liman's superb direction, I came to find myself having fun. It wasn't any meaningful, Oscar potential experience, but what we sometime lose sight of while at the movies. Simple, unbridled fun. -Sam Osborn of www.samseescinema.com
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