Review: “Mr. & Mrs. Smith”

With a wry smirk and more gunplay (albeit less gore) than a Robert Rodriguez movie, “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” comes as a surprise – a lightly enjoyable popcorn actioneer. Here was a film with a production history that near rivalled “The Stepford Wives” or “Gigli” in fame for being troublesome. Budgets went overboard, reshoots were done by the truckload, and Liman’s reputation for being a pain was proving hard to contain. On top of that came all the talk over the film’s sexy stars blossoming romance which caused both delight and concern in publicity circles. Throughout all the hype and gossip there was a movie in here and as it is now upon us, the question has become – “is it any good?”

The surprise answer is yes – sort of. It won’t go down as one of the more memorable Summer of 2005 flicks, nevertheless “Mr. & Mrs Smith” is a fun little action romp that will play well with the audience it is aiming for – so long as they don’t go in with any major expectations. Liman knows how to shoot action well and Bojan Bazelli’s lavish cinematography makes every scene look glamorous and worth the money spent, giving the whole production a glossy and slick sheen. The pace is kept tight and fast, whilst Kinberg’s script gets surprising mileage out of essentially a one-note/one-joke premise. That is mostly thanks to the frequent use of mildly amusing taunts, double entendres and banter between the smoking hot leads even if their chemistry only simmers rather than scalds.

As Liman’s films go though this certainly isn’t up on the level of his previous work like “Swingers,” “Go,” and “The Bourne Identity.” Each of those movies were thoroughly entertaining refreshments of genres that many had considered tired and deservedly so. “Smith” isn’t so lively fun – the jokes are more giggles than out-loud laughs and the chases become all too overblown unlike the restraint of “Bourne”. There’s also a staged feeling to many of the scenes that takes away from some action set pieces (eg. the house shoot-off) and by the time Jolie & Pitt pull out their 1500th set of guns to blow away more bad guys, it has become tiresomely repetitive and a good half hour too long.

Despite the need of some editing though, there’s some fun ideas on display that (whether purposefully or not) makes homages to the greats of the spy action genre ranging from the Bond and Bourne movies to TV’s “Alias”. Jolie does pulls off two escape sequences (by unwinding handbag and flyfox) that would do Jennifer Garner’s Sydney Bristow proud, whilst the Smith household is stacked with equipment bays that call to mind Michelle Yeoh’s stash from “Tomorrow Never Dies.” Many of the ideas are silly, no surprise considering the guy who wrote this also did the abhorrent “XXX: State of the Union,” but this film at least acknowledges from the get go that it’s an inherently silly premise that you will either go with or dismiss. There is no suspense and intrigue on display here, and no serious exploration of issues like lies in a marriage – its an action movie, nothing more or less.

Helping it a lot are Pitt and Jolie, without them involved the film could essentially be dismissed. Yet, both stars are glamorous, charming and look their ravishing best – even if this is far from their best work. The film is happy to show Angelina in rubber outfits, Brad gets his shirt off at least three times, and both are in loving close-up so much its hard not to feel some loin stirring when either one of them cracks a smile with their pouty lips. Both are the key to the film’s most fun idea involving on-camera therapy sessions which help frame the movie. Vince Vaughn has a few fun lines but proves the sole shining light of the supporting characters. Everyone else ranging from the assorted co-workers of Jolie to a surprisingly boring Adam Brody are totally unremarkable but that’s more due to lack of screen time than anything else.

One downside is the humour lacks bite. For a good portion of the film the two are essentially out to kill the other, and yet they’re rather polite about it all – a sign of the film’s PG-13 rating. That has an impact on the content which, despite all the bullets and explosions, keeps it all rather clean and involves little in the way of graphic violence to other humans whilst the sex scene and language is on the decidedly tame side. At times the film mines and near mimics territory explored by “War of the Roses” but that film had the luxury of being quite nasty and brutal with its very black humour, something this film never is – short of the occasional groin kick and name calling.

Its also exhausting. As I said before the film is too long by far, especially towards the end when both are being hunted down. There’s a great car chase sequence done to Air Supply’s “Making Love Out of Nothing At All” of all things, yet it and the home furniture store shootout finale are extraneous and drag it on too much. Still, going over the top is what this film is all about. It’s a pure dumb Summer movie that’s surprisingly better than expected but still barely above average, similar to the likes of “Bad Boys II”, “The Rundown” and “S.W.A.T.” in terms of quality. An enjoyable no-brainer romp.