Mr. & Mrs. Smith Review
It hardly seems possible but here's an even more depressing example of empty, big budget film-making than Star Wars Episode III. At least Star Wars had a vision, however compromised that vision may have become. Mr And Mrs Smith was an entirely cynical project from the beginning, its premise put together from bits of other movies. It's about a perfect suburban couple - John (Brad Pitt) and Jane Smith (Angelina Jolie) - whose marriage has gone sour (The War Of The Roses). They both happen to be assassins working for rival employers (Ballistic: Ecks Vs Sever). So, two married assassins (Prizzi's Honor). Naturally they're the kind of hip, postmodern assassins who do the job because being an assassin is cool (Grosse Pointe Blank). And neither of this lethal couple realises what the other does for a living (True Lies).
That's just a start - with virtually every scene, you can tick off another film that's been there first, not to mention TV shows like Alias. Such wholesale pilfering needn't lead to a bad film. Quentin Tarantino creates terrific new films out of used parts. The difference is he puts his own unique spin on those parts. Simon Kinberg, who wrote Mr And Mrs Smith just throws them into the mix and figures they worked once so they'll work again. Kinberg also wrote the atrocious xXx: The Next Level as well as contributing to Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle and Elektra. He's proving himself to be quite a hack. X-Men fans beware: he's written the third installment of that series.
The central concept of Mr And Mrs Smith is not just unoriginal, it's ridiculous even in the context of a dumb action film. Not only do you have to accept that two elite killers could meet and fall in love by accident, a whopper of a coincidence, you have to believe that these highly trained super-assassins could live together for five years without figuring out that their partner wasn't a civilian and then you have to believe neither they nor their employers ever bothered to look up their spouse in their databases until it was too late and they'd already turned up to carry out the same contract.
Now that the secret is out of the bag, the couple's bosses go ballistic and order them to kill each other or face termination themselves. Since neither of them is happy in their marriage, they decide to kill each other. This leads up to a well-staged (if familiar) fight scene an hour into the film which logically should be the climax. Instead, predictably, there is a twist and the story goes off in exactly the direction in which you'd guess it would go. Cue the second hour, which is more or less non-stop action.
This wouldn't be a problem if the action scenes were anything to shout about but they aren't. Director Doug Liman, who began his career with the quirky comedies Swingers and Go, is an efficient enough action director (The Bourne Identity) and he does provide one memorable car chase. However, most of the action is made up of the kind of gunfights which have been done to death in the 15 years since John Woo made The Killer and which Liman himself did better in his Bourne movie. Since this film has no proper villains, just an endless stream of disposable, faceless henchmen and since the Smiths never seem to be in any kind of danger (bullet hits barely slow them down), these shoot-outs hold about as much interest as watching a friend play Halo 2 on his X-Box.
Who do the henchmen work for? Come to think of it, who do Mr and Mrs Smith work for? "Rival agencies" is all we're told. Government agencies? The mafia? Private intelligence organisations like the ones in Alias? Who knows? Mr Smith works in a small office with his pal Eddie (Vince Vaughn, stealing the film effortlessly). Mrs Smith apparently works for Charlie's Angels: an all-female operation whose employees are hot babes. They both steer clear of the FBI but the couple of targets we see them take out are arms dealers and gangsters so presumably they're on the side of the angels.
I suspect the film keeps the details of Mr and Mrs Smith's jobs vague because when it comes to the subject of paid assassins, the makers want to have their cake and eat it. It's cool to be an assassin until you get into the messy specifics of the job which involve murdering people for money, possibly innocent people. Grosse Pointe Blank was upfront about its "hero"'s amorality and it was the better for it. Martin Blank was a dreadful person and yet we liked him: that was part of the kick. Mr And Mrs Smith doesn't have the guts to go that dark. It pretends to be provocative but underneath, like Elektra, it's a sanitised, PG-13 rated product which tiptoes around its characters' profession and chickens out of following through on its own premise. I guess we're supposed to either assume all their targets are deserving bastards like arms dealers and gangsters or just not think about it.
With no other major characters and few supporting parts, it's left to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie to carry the film entirely on their shoulders. They're both attractive and charismatic actors and they each have some good moments but there isn't much chemistry between them. They're like models doing a fashion shoot together. That's surprising since the stars' offscreen involvement has been the world's number one gossip topic for the past year, but given their track records, perhaps it shouldn't be such a shock. While they're both fine actors given the right role, Pitt and Jolie are also the two most narcissistic stars in Hollywood. They're happiest given undisputed star status or put in a showy supporting role. You don't call them if you need a romantic co-star. The only way either of them could create sexual chemistry would be with a mirror.