Mr. & Mrs. Smith
Directed by Doug Liman
This high-concept comedy is an interesting blend of two polar-opposite genres: romantic comedy and action. The concept is that two professional assassins are married to each other, neither knows what the other does, and they’re having marital problems stemming from boredom. The idea of blending those disparate genres is such a reach that it’s interesting as an exercise… how does one put such a comedy together? Unfortunately, Mr. & Mrs. Smith is an unfunny comedy, in spite of considerable effort. I was willing to suspend disbelief and buy into the concept – that they could possibly be married – complete with his and hers weapons stashes in the house – and not notice anything unusual about the other. The first of several big confrontations comes when they are both hired to kill the other – it’s domestic violence gone absolutely bonkers, but it just didn’t seem all that funny that they were shooting automatic weapons rather than throwing dishes and vases.
I’m confident that one reason that the idea of making this odd hybrid appealed to the powers-that-be in Hollywood is that, with two assassins as the main characters, it’s easy to write a “whammo” into the script every few pages. At least if the jokes aren’t getting any traction, you have plenty of car chases, gun fights, and exploding buildings to keep things moving.
Of course, predictably, when they find out how much they really have in common they warm up to each other, save the marriage and become a real team – against other adversaries. That part was just too cute.
By action movie standards, the fight scenes are relatively bloodless and the production design – the weapons and other action props – is too slick and glossy – as opposed to gritty and realistic. I believe they did this to avoid making the violence too disturbingly realistic – and losing some of the female audience that they are obviously courting. Although action movie fans are likely to be disappointed by the hokey production design and fight scenes that are mostly flash and pyrotechnics, the film is well made in some ways.
The first scene -- as well as several to follow -- show the couple (or just one of the two) sitting in a marriage counselor’s office. The clever part is that the counselor is off-camera – seemingly right behind the camera – so that our two megastars (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie) are looking straight at the audience, talking about their marriage. Those are some of the best scenes – the most clever, since the stars appear to be asking you for advice. Since it’s more than likely that most people who see this film are motivated by the presence of the stars rather than the story, these scenes give the audience just what they want most -- a powerful dose of celebrity -- a highly effective way make the fans feel connected with the stars.
Brad Pitt has a light touch that’s very effective in comedy – he does a lot with just a grunt or a shrug – but the talent is put to better use when the script is actually funny. Ocean’s Eleven and Ocean’s Twelve are two good examples – in fact both are somewhat similar to, but much better written than, this movie. The Ocean’s movies combine comedy with a crime caper plots.
Another similar genre-straddling movie that comes to mind is 1997’s Grosse Pointe Blank ( IMDB link for more info) – a romantic comedy starring John Cusack as a hitman trying to win the heart of a girl he had a crush on in high school. Minnie Driver plays the other lead – one running joke was that she didn’t know what he did for a living. I mention that because it’s a very funny movie… which I can’t say for Mr. & Mrs. Smith.
Here’s something that you may find amusing, bearing in mind that Mr. & Mrs. Smith had a smashing opening weekend -- $51 million U.S. box office, making it the #1 film for the weekend. How would the Omnipotent Film Critic “fix” this movie? A few suggestions: (1) The main characters come across as soft and cuddly assassins -- I say harden them up. Make them more realistic – ruthlessly violent – professional killers. And make more of the action scenes up close and personal – with more blood and agonizing pain – bring the point home that these are violent people; (2) Vince Vaughn was absolutely great as Brad Pitt’s buddy at his assassin job. This pro killer lives with his mother because he can’t trust any other woman. If you aren’t going to go for realistic assassins, [fix #1] then expand Vince Vaughn’s part – his goofball assassin is the funniest character in the film, but the part is much too small. Either make the killers more realistic – so you have a credible action movie or expand the character that’s actually funny.
Mr. & Mrs. Smith does get a few laughs – the cast did as well as can be expected given the lackluster script – but this action-comedy is toned down by action standards and is just not funny – not good news for a comedy. If you miss it in theaters, you won’t miss too much by catching it on DVD since the highly visual aspects – fight scenes, car chases, etc. are rendered in a cartoon-like style, so it’s probably better not to see them blown up onto the big screen.
Images are copyright 20th Century Fox.
For more information about this film including detailed cast and crew credits, check out The Internet Movie Database by clicking here.