Whenever Mr. & Mrs. Smith
’s plotting starts to plod, or another clunking line of dialogue is let drop, director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity)
has a way of wagging his two leads at the audience, much like one would a rattle at a fussy baby. Liman, all crafty-like, knows another close-up of Brad’s six-pack or Angelina’s inflate-a-pout will go a long way in maintaining viewer good will toward his uneven, ineffective mash-up of sex comedy and artillery-heavy action. And he’s right. The first half of Mr. & Mrs. Smith
glides by purely on the pleasure of Pitt and Jolie’s company (and, yes, the pleasure the actors obviously take in each other’s company, too). But that pleasure, that good will, can’t help but leak away in the face of dogged mediocrity. The premise, at least, is a corker: A couple on the brink of divorce discovers that they are rival assassins. There are two potentially lucrative storylines there – domestically, the Smiths have their marital malaise, and professionally … well, it’s never a good day at the office when you’re contracted to kill your spouse. But screenwriter Simon Kinberg (XXX: State of the Union)
doesn’t satisfactorily explore either idea, instead hitting the same punchline ad nauseam. Part of the problem is the script’s constant seesaw between sincerity and glibness. First it tries to inspire sympathy for the frayed marriage, for a couple that seems not vengeful but rather frustrated, defeated, disillusioned. And then, in a quite violent about-face, we’re meant to find it humorous when they turn homicidal on each other (it’s not unheard of – Danny DeVito’s The War of the Roses
managed the trick quite nicely). Even if it weren’t for the uneven tone, there’s still very little humor to be had in zzzzz-ing zingers like "your aim’s as bad as your cooking, sweetheart." As for the hired-killer angle, there’s a thin trace of a plot involving Adam Brody as a spy in federal custody, but it’s all just silly maneuverings to get Pitt and Jolie in place for one big honking shootout after another. Somewhere in there, they cease playing characters; they are but quip-makers, the pause button in a series of frenzied shoot-'em-ups. When Mr. & Mrs. Smith
works – which it does only in fits and starts – it’s entirely because of Jolie and Pitt’s charisma. Sure, her man-eating m.o. isn’t as novel as it used to be, but it still bests the grass-fed cheerleaders and waifs that are our movie stars today. Likewise, it’s hard not to fall hook, line, and sinker for Pitt’s loosey-goosey charm. Was I suckered? Sure. But the biggest suckers may be Pitt and Jolie, who are reduced to set dressing in their own star vehicle.