Every time Middle America goes to the supermarket, it has to endure magazine covers about an affair between Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. Their new movie, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, is untouched by the baloney. These are gorgeous movie stars, they can play comedy, and they’re great fun to watch.
The film industry, on the other hand, has been following a different tale. Mr. & Mrs. Smith took two years to make and went $26 million over budget. Director Doug Liman, who had the same problem on The Bourne Identity, now has a reputation for being a producer’s nightmare: rewriting, reshooting, and changing his mind. You can get away with that on an indie film, but on a big movie, indecision is deadly. Just ask Francis Ford Coppola.
The titular Smiths are John, Brad Pitt, and Jane, Angelina Jolie. They have a hot and heavy courtship. Five or maybe six years later – John can’t remember which – their house is like a tomb, and they can’t even pass the salt without subtext. Jane tells their counselor, "There’s this enormous space between us that keeps filling up with all the things we don’t say. What do you call that?" "Marriage," he says.
There’s a big lie slumbering beneath the surface. The movie’s joke is that the lie isn’t infidelity. John and Jane are both assassins. When they figure it out, they are assigned to kill each other. This is just the tonic their marriage needs. If you’ve ever wanted to fire a missile at your spouse, you’ll find that funny.
Liman has been carefully laying the groundwork. Now the movie has to go one of two ways: towards The War of the Roses, or towards Butch and Sundance. I don’t think I’m revealing too much in telling you it does first the former, then the latter. The elegance of all that setup pays off like fireworks.
Mr. & Mrs. Smith is the product of a director who noodled around, and producers who took over the action stuff. So it jumps through the hoops, but it has an affable charm, with crisp dialogue and unexpected little touches. Consider the bits with the chair; the ice cream; and the tee-shirt.
My biggest gripe is that Mr. & Mrs. Smith won’t quit. The real climax is the witty car chase. The next 20 minutes contain a lame twist, a boring jailbreak, and an orgiastic shootout obviously directed by the stunt coordinator. There must have been enormous pressure on Liman to make a movie that delivers. So he overdid it.
I came up with a better ending for the movie. John and Jane find out their rival agencies are really run by the same shadowy figure. The head honcho is, get this: their marriage counselor. He sicced them on each other so they could work out their marital problems. So what do you think? Better, right?
Mr. & Mrs. Smith is playing at Showplace West. This and other theater and music reviews are available online at wfiu.indiana.edu. Reviewing movies for WFIU, this is Peter Noble-Kuchera.