Mr. & Mrs. Smith

Mr. & Mrs. Smith

Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, ...

In Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Doug Liman’s winkingly decadent ballistic domestic screwball comedy, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie play married assassins who spend a great deal of time trying to kill each other, first with words, then with extremely large tech-chic assault weapons. The movie revels in its bemused overkill, which is fun for a while before it grows wearisome, but there’s no denying that the mutual hostility looks good on the two stars. Even if they didn’t have gossip headlines to ricochet off of, Pitt and Jolie flirt with expert timing, and they’re never sexier than when they’re biting each other’s heads off. It helps, of course, that the two are ideally matched physical specimens, with a his-and-hers set of bee-stung lips — his, if anything, are even poutier — and a shared attitude of come-hither carnality. Pitt’s heavy-lidded gaze makes it look as if he were stoned on the happy knowledge of what a sun-god pinup he is, and Jolie, with her naughty yet playful hellcat snarl, is perhaps his first female costar to come on like she could eat him for breakfast.

The two start out as a parody of the perfect upper-middle-class couple. In a white mini-mansion in the leafy New York suburbs, John Smith (Pitt) arrives home each evening, mixes a martini, and banters with his wife, Jane (Jolie), about such pressing matters as whether the new drapes she just hung will work with the old couch. Mr. & Mrs. Smith opens in a lively, tossed-off way, with a marital-counseling ”tune-up” session peppered with just enough funny, awkward pauses and euphemisms to suggest that the Smiths aren’t quite as open with one another as they pretend to be.

Each, it turns out, is a clandestine assassin, employed by rival agencies, with their weapons stashed in hidden compartments around the house (his are inside a chamber below the garage, hers are kept under the impeccably renovated wall oven). The two slip out, unbeknownst to the other, to make a killing, which they accomplish with the ease of those used to wielding only the most upscale utensils. She poses as a dominatrix in black leather and then makes a getaway worthy of Catwoman, as he stumbles, apparently drunk, into a poker game, only to ace everyone in the room.

In its violently far-fetched way, Mr. & Mrs. Smith invites us to view John and Jane Smith as an action-comedy extension of every couple who have ever concealed, out of love and civility, a handful of innocuous ”little things,” only to see those routine marital fibs coalesce over the years into a secrecy zone of nagging mistrust. The movie’s pivotal joke, and it’s a good one, is that the Smiths, by concealing their sociopathic professions from each other, have conspired without knowing it in the classic bourgeois marital charade. They’ve stowed away their anger, and their amorous sparks along with it. It’s only fitting, then, that when they’re both assigned to terminate the same target in the middle of the desert, a glitch — or is it? — that ends up outing their identities, they feel conned, lied to, betrayed. And, in a weird way, turned on. Ordered by their respective agencies to assassinate each other, they go about the task all too eagerly, even as their smackdown-to-the-death revives why they fell for each other in the first place.

There are many precedents for a comedy of barbed love played out through action. One thinks of Romancing the Stone, the 1999 remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, the underrated Entrapment, that blitzkrieg divorce bash The War of the Roses, the Thin Man films, or even the original exercise in espionage screwball, the ’60s TV series The Avengers. I wish I could say that Mr. & Mrs. Smith was every bit as enjoyable, but for all the nimbleness of its first half and the chemical zing of Pitt and Jolie, the film devolves into a fractious and explosive mess, hitting the same note of ”ironic” violence over and over.

Once the Smiths have been unmasked, the cleverness begins to leak out of Simon Kinberg’s script, and the movie loses its jovial and gamelike atmosphere of deception. John and Jane attempt to blow each other away, trashing their house in the process, only to realize that they’re better off joining forces. Liman stages an endless highway chase, full of back talk and bullets, that might have been a knockout had the banter been one-tenth as ingenious as the kamikaze staging. I realize that we’re supposed to simply go with the high-megaton flow, but Mr. & Mrs. Smith, by turning into a hip comedy of wreckage, doesn’t just steamroll the sexy bond of its stars. It overwhelms itself.

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