Review: Pitt, Jolie give 'Smith' sexy punch
Chemistry of stars makes up for autopilot explosions
By Paul Clinton
(CNN) -- Start with a nice little battle-of-the-sexes romantic comedy, the kind favored by the likes of Frank Capra and Howard Hawks. Then dump in a whole lot of 21st-century action and ear-splitting gunplay, in the vein of Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay.
You now have the basic formula for "Mr. & Mrs. Smith."
Fortunately, though the Bruckheimer-Bay-style explosions threaten to overwhelm the snappy jibes of the romantic comedy, there's enough of the latter to keep the former at bay -- with thanks to stars Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, whose chemistry keeps the movie afloat when the umpteenth loud noise threatens to sink it.
This film's plot is high concept, as they say in the biz. John Smith (Pitt) and Jane Smith (Jolie), unbeknownst to each other, are trained assassins working for competing organizations. They first meet while on separate assignments during a bloody revolution in Bogota, Colombia. After a number of tequila shots and some steamy moves on the dance floor, the two fall in love.
There's just one hitch to their getting hitched. Despite exchanging vows, they still keep their real professions a secret from each other. (Since they're supposedly flying all over the world killing people for hire, it's best not to dwell on exactly how they manage this unlikely feat.) On the surface they both have average -- if high-paying -- jobs and live in a picture-perfect house in deepest suburbia.
But after six years of marriage, they've settled into a rut. Their mutual secret has become the elephant in the living room that nobody wants to talk about.
All that changes when each is given a new assignment. They are ordered to assassinate one another. Apparently their rival organizations view their marriage as a conflict of interest. With absolutely no hesitation, they both accept. (Apparently a simple divorce is out of the question.)
Now the bullets fly, as does the witty repartee. The tension peaks in a brilliantly played -- and almost lethal -- dance in a fancy restaurant about halfway through the film, which makes a nice counterpoint to the Bogota dance scene earlier in the movie.
When the Smiths fall in love all over again on the way to blowing each other to pieces, they decide to turn on their respective agencies. At this point, the movie threatens to blow itself to pieces, with gun battle after gun battle and a last, over-the-top clash that borders on the ludicrous. Thankfully, Pitt and Jolie save the day one last time.
Good performances better than script
Vince Vaughn, as Pitt's best friend, adds some nice comic relief.
Director Doug Liman is notorious for being indecisive on the set, requiring take after take of the same scene. It's a habit that results in his films going over budget -- much to the annoyance of his producers and studio executives. But as he did with "The Bourne Identity," he once again manages to deliver the goods.
After Pitt's anemic turn in "Troy" and Jolie's stilted performance in "Alexander," they're both in need of a career boost. This hybrid of a romantic comedy and action flick shows off both their comedic timing and their physical prowess. Both also deliver their lines with a dry wit that's all too hard to find in today's romantic comedy genre, and do the film proud.
The always welcome Vince Vaughn provides a hilarious performance as Eddie, John's hyper fellow assassin who still lives with his mother because she's the only woman he can trust.
The movie is based on the first draft of a screenplay written by Simon Kinberg for his master's thesis at the Columbia University film school. (One wonders what degree "XXX: State of the Union," his previously produced script, qualified him for.) Kinberg joined forces with Academy Award-winning screenwriter Akiva Goldsman ("A Beautiful Mind"), who produced "Smith," to create a vehicle for two of the world's most beautiful people, and it's the stars' good looks -- and terrific chemistry -- that make the script work ... when the writing hasn't given way to exploding cars.
It's too bad that "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" couldn't have spent more quiet time with its stars. But overall, it's a good ride.