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Mr. & Mrs. Smith

The pitch for Mr. & Mrs. Smith must have looked really good. Two assassins marry, then get assigned to kill each other. For black comedy, it's gold. John Huston mined the concept for an Oscar-winning movie, Prizzi's Honor. Heck, it even pretty much sums up the backstory for Spy Kids, and that movie worked out all right.

Unfortunately, nobody really bothered to flesh things out beyond that initial pitch. So while the final product has some entertaining moments, they can't stop you from realizing this movie is about nothing at all.

Unless you count it being about how two beautiful and talented actors can be used by a director to cover up that he has nothing to direct, not even a moral point of view. The disappointment comes even more keenly when you look back at director Doug Liman's resumé and see Swingers, Go and The Bourne Identity. How could this guy go wrong?

It's not even easy to turn off your brain and let this wash over you, like you could with the bizarre mess of Charlie's Angels 2. There, you still felt dirty, but you knew that the film at least had no pretension. (Okay, I'm still hoping that was the truth.) This one purports to be...well, it's hard to tell what it purports to be. In fact, the script became so repetitive and incoherent that it's hard to remember how it actually ended.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith asks you to get behind these two being killers without ever actually telling you who they kill and why. At one point, Angelina Jolie's team (mysteriously all women) work out of a trailer labeled United Fried Chicken, a possible veiled reference to the CIA. Possible. But it seems more likely that Mr. and Mrs. Smith are both assassins without any particular agenda beyond the highest bidder.

That might even be forgivable if Liman had still followed certain narrative rules, but this may be the first movie that insists that you've seen the trailer, so it doesn't need to bother with any pretense. \The only people that spend any time not knowing Mr. and Mrs. Smith are assassins are each other. We all know from the get-go, and so does the script. Thus, their meet cute isn't even cute, though considering it's Brad Pitt and Jolie, it is ridiculously good-looking.

Once the movie reaches the crux and they decide they must kill the other, it goes downhill. (Not that the set-up set a high point, either, using The O.C.'s Adam Brody as a goat so obvious he might as well be eating a tin can.)

Though Liman stages their hunting each other within the house with some energy, once it turns into them versus their agencies, everything gets repetitive. In addition, the script would have us believe that in five years of marriage, neither of them ever went to the other's office, nor even really know where the other works at all. This is a parody of a parody of a bad marriage.

That dim grasp of connubial discontent as a convenient plot device extends to the production design, which trades on clichés rather than sense. John and Jane Smith are young, single and individually pointedly well-off as a result of their career choice, yet immediately go for a huge house in the suburbs rather than a trendy apartment. Despite clearly not wanting children, Jane drives a mini-wagon, and John a rather staid sedan. Who is supposed to be providing cover for whom and why?

Vince Vaughn pops up, a relief but still wasted, and though his character works for John Smith, his lifestyle is much less ...successful. From all evidence, that's for no other reason than because it makes for easy jokes about him living at home with his mother. Don't be fooled; Vaughn works hard for every laugh, and deserves the ones he gets. But this movie did him no favors.

It did, obviously, favor Pitt and Jolie if the rumors are true. They do have an easy chemistry that makes you long for a better movie. I hope the rumors are true, because then at least Mr. & Mrs. Smith would have been responsible for two people having a good time.


Derek McCaw

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