It is easy to see why the hype surrounding ball busting romcom Mr & Mrs Smith has centred on the relationship between its two stars, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. As John and Jane Smith the two sizzle on screen trading one liners as easily as bombs and bullets in a way not seen since Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner drew up battle lines in Danny Devito’s misanthropic take on modern divorce The War of the Roses. Seeing the two on screen one cannot blame Jennifer Aniston for being worried about her husband’s off screen antics with the former Mrs Billy Bob Thornton.
The Heat-style hype might put off some punters, who fear the concentration on this alleged dalliance is a decoy for a duff movie. It is not. Mr & Mrs Smith is a good film, with one caveat. On the positive side it recalls a long tradition of wise-cracking classics that go back to the comedies of Howard Hawkes when the likes of Rosalind Russell exchanged smart putdowns with Cary Grant.
The Smiths are to all appearances a typical suburban American married couple facing the seven year itch thanks to a combination of boredom and deceit. It did not start like that: the two met in dubious circumstances in a Bogota hotel lobby as firecrackers burst outside and revolutionaries roamed the streets. It was lust at first sight, which after a bottle of pisco soon leads to marriage.
What the two failed to disclose was the exact nature of their day jobs: they are hired assassins working for competing organizations less than happy about domestic bliss breaking out between their top guns. As a result the two are given their ultimate assignments: contracts to kill each other. From then on the sparks flying are no longer confined to repartee as every portable weapon in their arsenal is used to fulfill the kills.
As one would expect from the director of Swingers and The Bourne Identity, Doug Liman keeps the pace snapping along throughout the two hour run, moving from domestic loathing to high octane action with verve and panache. It is his fourth directorial outing – he also directed the under-rated slacker movie Go – in a career that shows no sign of sagging.
My one caveat is the direction of the ultimate showdown between the two, a scene of extreme domestic violence, in which Pitt gleefully kicks Jolie. Even at the press screening this drew an audible gasp of shock, sharply awakening the audience to the reality of domestic violence, undermining the slick and jokey direction of the rest of the movie.
Despite the escalating violence Simon Kinberg’s punchy screenplay keeps the wisecracks flowing amid the mayhem, and adds a few in-jokes for movie anoraks. Of the supporting cast Swingers’ Vince Vaughn, who plays John’s best friend Eddie, is the only one to pad out, and indeed he has many of the best comic moments.
But ultimately the success of Mr & Mrs Smith is down to the two leads. Throughout dance is used as a motif for their relationship. Jolie and Pitt court to a sexy drunken dance, each vying to lead, later their dances smoulder but with deadly threat. It is an apt metaphor of modern marriage performed by a sizzling double act that is fun to watch, unless your name is Aniston that is.