|Mr. and Mrs. Smith
Starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Directed by Doug Liman. Written by Simon Kinberg. Rated PG-13.
When a hit man loves a hit woman, the result is the darkly funny Mr. and Mrs. Smith.
By KRISTIAN LIN
Mr. & Mrs. Smith was originally the title of a 1941 romantic comedy directed by, of all people, Alfred Hitchcock. That rather leaden effort was distinguished only by a playfully sadistic streak in the hijinks between a husband and wife who humiliate each other over whether to make their invalid marriage legal. The current Mr. and Mrs. Smith offers a much bigger dose of playful sadism, enough to make it the funniest romantic comedy so far this year.
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie play John and Jane Smith, a couple whose considerable wealth comes from their employment as high-level contract killers, though neither spouse knows that the other’s in the same line of work. They keep up the pretense of being ordinary suburbanites and wonder why they’ve drifted apart after five years of marriage. (Or six. They can’t agree.)
Simon Kinberg’s script is derivative hackwork, resorting early on to that tired device of having the heroine impersonate a dominatrix to get to a bad guy. Predictably, once the Smiths learn each other’s true identity by being double-booked to kill the same target, they make serious attempts to murder each other before discovering that their marriage is stronger now that all their secrets are out.
You can easily imagine what kind of crap Mr. and Mrs. Smith would have been in lesser hands. Luckily, the hands here belong to Doug Liman, the indie filmmaker with a flair for fresh popcorn entertainment (Go, The Bourne Identity). He and his stars play the material for delicate humor — when Jane intercepts John on his way home and broadsides his car with hers, he pauses for a second before letting out an irritated little half-scream. The director gives the scenes a bubbly, bouncy feel that takes our eyes off the vacuous plot, and Vince Vaughn contributes his usual shtick. As John’s best friend and colleague, he counsels him to deal with the situation realistically by putting a bullet in his wife. Meanwhile, neither Pitt nor Jolie has ever exuded so much old-fashioned Hollywood glamour; his slacker cool and her smoldering fire are a great match, especially in a hilarious wordless interlude set to Air Supply’s “Making Love Out of Nothing At All.”
The movie’s merry slapstick violence reaches a peak in a long sequence midway through when the Smiths achieve a couples therapy breakthrough by shooting up their house and then engaging in an all-out brawl. It really shouldn’t be hysterically funny to see a husband knock his wife down and kick her several times while she’s lying on the ground, but somehow in this context, it is. That’s not least because she stops him by kicking him in the crotch, which leads to a break in the combat because both parties are too injured to continue. When the strife gives way to a round of makeup sex that’s almost as violent as the fighting, you can’t help but root for these crazy kids to patch things up. While the climax is underwhelming in some respects, it works as a slow-motion dance of love, with the Smiths dodging small-arms fire while going Butch & Sundance on faceless assassins in a retail store. A romance for the action-thriller crowd, Mr. and Mrs. Smith is shallow and amoral. It’s also a blast.
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