Marital therapy acquires life-or-death ramifications in “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” an exhaustingly elaborate romantic fantasy actioner. Built on the cutesy premise that a great-looking husband and wife are paid killers without the other knowing about it, the at-least $110 million two-hander pirouettes entirely on the script’s whimsical approach to serious business and the charm generated by leads Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. But it doesn’t take long for the souffle to fall. Fox is doing everything possible to assure a big near-worldwide opening June 10, which the two stars should help foster, but B.O. legs don’t look as long as those of the leading lady.
Okay, this isn’t “Gigli,” perhaps the last big studio film to boast a similar complement of combustible on-and-off screen romance, production delays and budget overruns. On the other hand, it certainly isn’t “Trouble in Paradise,” the Ernst Lubitsch classic that stands as the model of a romantic comedy about two competing criminals who fall in love. Nor does it have anything to do with Alfred Hitchcock’s 1941 film of the same title — the director’s only outright comedy.
Originally penned by scenarist-du-jour Simon Kinberg (“XXX: State of the Union,” “Fantastic Four”) as his thesis for a master’s degree at Columbia, “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” essentially takes the view that, as passion and excitement in marriage is destined to fade, what a couple needs is a little mortal combat to spice it up.
Well, whatever turns you on, but be warned that the marital aids on display here cost a tad more than those on offer at the neighborhood adult toys shop; they include enough state-of-the-art spy equipment, computer gear, heavy artillery and shiny kitchen utensils to assure the successful invasion of a medium-sized country.
The couple’s meet-cute actually is, as John (Pitt) and Jane (Jolie) are thrown together under mutual duress in Bogota. When you look like these two, one thing leads to another very quickly; Pitt and Jolie hardly need any sexing up as it is, but they are lavished with visual caresses by director Doug Liman and lenser Bojan Bazelli to an extraordinary degree, which certainly makes the picture easy on the eye.
Five or six years later (they can never agree on which), the Smiths are living in acute domestic luxury, with a pinch of marital fatigue in the equation, alluded to in a succession of straight-to-camera therapy sessions that prove alternately amusing and coy. The truth about their identical professions, their proficiency at what they do and the effectiveness of their lies to each other over the stretch of the marriage emerge in the vigorous intercutting of respective hits they pull off on one busy New York City night.
But their next jobs prove disastrous: They are assigned to take out the same guy at the same time by their respective unnamed agencies. The way they keep their mutual realizations of these circumstances secret — and then try to rub out each other — generates the only mild intrigue the piece can manage.
Thereafter, the film tries, but fails, to build an emotional head of steam from the idea that the torrent of truth-telling they kick-start to make up for five (or is it six?) years of lying provides the basis for a new-and-improved marriage.
This is one of those films for which viewers willing to buy into the premise might happily go along for the ride. For those who find it resistible, if not preposterous, however, “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” proves a very long haul indeed. The sheer weight and volume of mayhem toward the end is numbing and meaningless, and two hours is a good 25 minutes more than such a frail conceit can sustain.
As he proved on “Go” and “The Bourne Identity,” Liman can shoot the hell out of a scene, coming up with fresh angles and details to put ordinary happenings in sharp relief. But despite deft pacing within individual sequences and an admirable talent for throwaway humor, it’s mostly overkill here, a case of far too much care and polish and money lavished upon too fragile an idea.
Pitt and Jolie feint, banter and attack with aplomb, their movie-star wattage providing the only plausible excuse for paying attention to the shenanigans parading across the screen; when they’re old, they might well think back on this moment as the time when they looked their best. But they certainly won’t be able to consider it their best film.
Vince Vaughn contributes some manic humor as John’s disheveled mama’s boy boss, a funny character conception. Everyone else comes and goes quickly.
Technically, pic is a dream of fabulous textural surfaces, luminous locations and exquisite lighting. John Powell’s frisky score is augmented by a CD full of international-flavored tunes and covers.