As far as I’m concerned, ‘Mr. & Mrs. Smith’ may as well have guilty pleasure written all over its cover. The film’s theatrical release may have been dogged by poor reviews and an audience distracted by the emergence of the real life dramedy affectionately known as “Brangelina,” but I’ve always felt it got a bad rap. I’m certainly not going to make a case for it being a perfect film, but in my humble opinion, it’s far better than most reviewers would have you believe.
After six years of marriage, John and Jane Smith (Pitt and Jolie) have grown bored with their marriage and safe suburban lives. However, both John and Jane are oblivious to their spouse’s true career — as it turns out, each of the Smiths are assassins working for rival agencies. When a botched hit simultaneously uncovers their individual secrets, each spouse is given a deadline to kill the other. With loaded guns and hesitant hearts, the Smiths must decide whether to simply follow orders or to finally work together to take control of their relationship.
Director Doug Liman (‘Go,’ ‘The Bourne Identity’) crafts ‘Mr. & Mrs. Smith’ as a quirky romantic comedy packed with kinetic gunplay, tongue-in-cheek humor, and a comicbook sensibility that suggests the film shouldn’t be taken too seriously. The result is as playful as his cast’s on-screen chemistry. His opening act toys with the humdrum lifestyle of the Smiths and develops an amusing commentary on the comical blandness of married life. Even when the action finally kicks into high gear, Liman doesn’t allow explosions and car chases to dampen the lighthearted tone of the proceedings. Instead, the flick evolves into a blend of bullets and bravado that’s anchored by the charm of its principal actors.
Critics often ridicule ‘Mr. & Mrs. Smith’ for two reasons — they think Pitt and Jolie lack convincing on-screen chemistry and they despise the film’s use of self-referential humor. I just don’t see a problem with either. Pitt and Jolie are clearly having a blast together on set and I think it translates perfectly onto the screen. Their scenes sizzle with an effortless fluidity that feels organic and natural. Likewise, the use of self-referential humor is restrained and doesn’t feel derivative. Liman keeps his nods subtle enough that they feel more like inside jokes. When a supporting character appears wearing a ‘Fight Club’ shirt, I couldn’t stop chuckling, but my wife was confused by my reaction because she didn’t catch the gag.
I’ll admit there isn’t an abundance of substance below the film’s surface — the plot certainly has holes, the supporting characters are largely expositional, and the story developments are pretty convenient. Even so, the sheer entertainment value of ‘Mr. & Mrs. Smith’ allows me to ignore most of these shortcomings. Liman and company never forget that the primary function of an action/comedy is to entertain its audience, infusing ‘Mr. & Mrs. Smith’ with a contagious energy that gives the film genuine momentum. Viewers looking for anything more significant than this sort of exhilarating vibe may walk away disappointed, but I think fans of films like ‘Ocean’s 11’ will be all too familiar with what I’m trying to describe.
My only serious complaint is that the last five minutes of the film are an anti-climactic cop out. Liman originally shot a showdown with villains played by Jacqueline Bisset and Terrence Stamp. When that didn’t work out to his satisfaction, he shot another confrontational send off with Keith David and Angela Bassett. For whatever reason, he scrapped both and went with a faceless denouement that always makes me feel like I accidentally hit the chapter skip button on my remote.
In the end, ‘Mr. & Mrs. Smith’ is an enjoyable ride packed with grin-inducing dialogue and entertaining action scenes. It’s not perfect, but it is a lot of fun. Unfortunately, predicting your love or hate of the film is near impossible since it’ll come down to pure personal taste. What can I say? Some people dig it… some people despise it. Regardless, this guilty pleasure has earned a comfortable home on my shelf.
(Note that like the original 2005 DVD release, this Blu-ray edition of ‘Mr. & Mrs. Smith’ features the theatrical PG-13 version of the film — not the Unrated Director’s Cut that was released on DVD in 2006.)