WFTB Score: 6/20
The plot: John and Jane Smith share a house and a five (or six) year marriage, but not the true nature of their day jobs: they are both assassins, for rival agencies. When they are assigned the same hit, their secret lives are uncovered and their marriage becomes a deadly game of cat-and-mouse.
There are certain types of film that will always get the benefit of the doubt, round these parts anyway: low-budget projects, movies by new, young filmmakers or those featuring up-and-coming actors, for example. You look over rough edges and the odd naff scene because you can see enthusiasm for the art, a desire to succeed, in every frame.
Mr and Mrs Smith is clearly not one of those films, combining as it does A-list stars, a major studio, a hot director and a high-concept idea. Gorgeous Angelina Jolie, handsome Brad Pitt, The Bourne Identity’s Doug Liman and a shedload of guns: It’s sexy, that’s what that is! Like Grosse Pointe Blank but with incredibly beautiful people, like True Lies only they’re both at it! Sexy sexy sexy!
Except it’s not, not at all. And the reason why is that high concept: ‘married assassins oblivious to each others’ jobs’ sounds great as a seven word pitch, but try writing a well-plotted script around it and everything falls apart. The film starts with John and Jane Smith’s marriage in trouble, and as they head out separately for the evening we are meant to be thinking of infidelity; but we already know they are killers, if not from the massive publicity that brought us to the film in the first place, then from the early flashback to Colombia where they initially meet.
Five (or six – and doesn’t that joke get old quickly?) years later, Pitt’s first hit is in an Irish bar. We don’t know why he’s doing it, but he has to kill a man called Lucky, and he does it by charming his way into a poker game with Lucky’s henchmen, one of whom has the most despicable Irish accent you have ever heard. The hit complete, he returns home to Jolie who has just completed a murder in fetish gear. She asks where he’s been and explains he’s been to a Sports bar where he ‘got lucky.’ Ba-dum-tish!
This is the quality of joke throughout. Clearly the film is pitched as an action romp rather than a black comedy, and as such belly laughs are hardly to be expected; but the gags are lame when they come, so Liman relies on Brad Pitt’s fame and rugged charm to impress. It even gets as low as one character sporting a Fight Club T-shirt. See what we’ve done? Knowing, eh?! Oh, fff…for God’s sake, go away.
Laziness seeps out everywhere. Jane Smith says she was an orphan and that the man who gave him away at the wedding was a paid actor. Has her ‘family’ never been referred to or spoken about subsequently, let alone been paid a visit? You can’t imagine the deceit lasting five (or…whatever) days, let alone years. Over-analysis maybe, but symptomatic of a film that is so busy being cool that it completely sacrifices coherence. Lots of gadgetry, loads of busy, buzzy music, but very little sense.
The real problem, however, isn’t sloppiness. Once the Smiths’ secrets are out, their first instincts are to kill each other – well, Jane mostly wants to kill John, cries when she thinks she might have actually done it, then finding she hasn’t, wants to kill him again. On screen this really isn’t much fun, partially because you don’t know who to support (unlike Bourne, one isn’t the hero and the other the villain); but mostly because watching a couple trying to murder one another is rather unsettling.
Even if you enjoy shotguns blasting holes in the walls, and fridges being riddled with machine-gun fire, to the funky accompaniment of Express Yourself, watching a man punching and kicking a woman to pieces is simply unpleasant. It’s not funny, it’s not dramatic, it’s just nasty; and the fact that it gets them all revved up for sex is just insulting.
It comes as little surprise that, post sex, the Smiths team up against the world in a fight for survival, and no surprise at all that this fight features gargantuan explosions, car chases and the shooting of dozens of black-clad, armed-but-useless agents. There is next to no explanation of who these agents are, who they work for, or why they need Mr & Mrs S dead. Or why, following the big climactic scene, everything is perfectly safe again.
And then you have Vince Vaughn’s Eddie, one of the few supporting characters with human characteristics, in so much as Vaughn bothers to project them. In Liman’s Swingers, Vaughn was new and his arrogance was fresh and funny, but time and again since he has displayed the antithesis of range, reprising the same “eye for the ladies” shtick in every role and only confirming that sleaze does not become more appealing with age. You could argue that the role of Eddie requires nothing of Vaughn: he delivers that, and less.
Okay, so I didn’t like the film much, but will make one concession: there is decent chemistry between the leads, which for a while, at least, served them well in ‘real’ life, such as theirs was; and if you like pretty people, showy gunplay, stylish violence, technically proficient explosions and the like, you may be able to stare at this film and gawp. Just don’t try to do anything more than rub its shiny surface; you’re likely to put your finger through and discover that, on the inside, it’s completely empty.