Mr. & Mrs. Smith
Relationship woes + guns = mis-guided missile. Disappointingly dud.
Doug Liman. That damn sell-out. Or so many will say in the aftermath of Mr. & Mrs. Smith; a film destined to be remembered only for it's stars' off-screen canoodling and an incredibly minimalist yet fetching poster campaign. The plot is pure, simple, summer fare with a hint of nineties high-concept thrown into the mix. John Smith (Brad Pitt) is an affluent, suburban husband working in the construction industry and his wife Jane (Angelina Jolie) an equally wealthy Manhattan IT consultant. They have a lovely home, no kids to worry about and have settled into a nice, boring, middle-class routine; perhaps the reason why their union is crumbling under the weight of marital apathy, causing them to seek paid assistance from a counselor. So, The War of the Roses then? In another decade yes. In the noughties, no.
We need more. More, damnit, more! And so to this end John and Jane are both, unbeknown to each other, two of the world's most lethal assassins. Ho ho! That'll work! What's more, when both are assigned the same target by different agencies and cause each other to botch the job, each quarrelling half finds themselves tasked with "whacking" the other. Hell, with a setup like that there's only one outcome; violence and hilarious shenanigans must surely ensue! Well, for we "glass half empty" sorts the answer is an annoyingly average "almost but not quite". In fairness I did approach this movie with a sense of dread from the start, largely due to a TV advertising campaign that's out to convince people this is two hours of shit blowing up and little else. In practice, nothing could be further from the truth, and I found myself actually quite enjoying the exposition of the first half hour.
Beginning with a therapist's couch session, Mr. & Mrs. Smith does, as one might expect from Liman, at least set out to approach the mainstream stupidity of it's concept along an amusingly slanted vector. There's very little if any gunplay from the outset with the script instead focussing on the enjoyably tepid dynamic between the couple in their day-to-day lives. What's ultimately less enjoyable is that although pleasantly sarcastic in their exchange of woes neither party offers the viewer much of an emotional handle. Much has been made of the, ahem, chemistry between Pitt and Jolie both on and off set, and while it may be true that this is fairly obvious from the outset it doesn't necessarily mean we as viewers will automatically find the duo likeable. As a result by the time the fireworks do kick off and relationship follies take a back seat we're left with a net result of some competently handled, mid-market eye candy and very little else.
Still, when said eye candy counts a kinkily-costumed Jolie for the boys and tightly T-shirted Pitt for the ladies it's probably a safe bet that, lacklustre nature or not, this is one movie the punters won't be asking for a refund on, and in that respect eye candy is all the studio really need care about. It's just a shame that among the stupidly overblown rocket-launching and automatic gunfire the movie deviates from it's promising opening act and ends up instead en route to one hell of an identity crisis. While Simon Kinberg's screenplay is busying itself plagiarising source material such as Grosse Pointe Blank (check the scene where Jolie ends up holding a baby; thief!) it's also losing track of just where exactly it was supposed to be heading in the first place.
Oddly, Kinberg seems to have forgotten to pencil in an ending that explains the denouement's outcome and, presumably on the director and/or studio's part, several action scenes from the trailers are either missing completely or rendered entirely differently, the former being the most perplexing. In fact it would have been reasonable to expect Liman to commit to the plot's logical conclusion and include as much all-out warfare as possible in lieu of the talky stuff, but instead the director fumbles the ball somewhat by placing a little too much faith in how clever the script would clearly like to believe it is. Numerous other questions arising from the plot also remain unsatisfyingly blank, and one particularly dynamite dilemma faced by John's hitman best-buddy Eddie (Vince Vaughn) is criminally forgotten almost immediately, prompting the further question of why Kinberg bothered pencilling it in in the first place. The upshot of all this is that rather than being The War of the Roses with guns (and imagine how entertaining that would have been), Mr. & Mrs. Smith ends up more like True Lies with half the action.
Whether Doug Liman is purposely plotting this career trajectory or not is unclear, but given that in Hollywood you're only as good as your last movie he'd better watch out. With Swingers he announced the arrival of a talented indie spirit, and The Bourne Identity showed just how much could be made of generic thriller fare. In going for the summer blockbuster jugular however Liman may just have made his first slip. While there's nothing wrong with Mr. & Mrs. Smith as far as popcorn fare is concerned, in the context of his previous works it's a major disappointment and I for one am sure this particular director could have made a lot more of the material. This particular film may not be the first of this season's big budget high hopes, but it is the first major disappointment (and no, Episode III doesn't count).
Angelina Jolie (Jane Smith)
Vince Vaughn (Eddie)