What a difference a little tabloid fodder makes! Generally, when I attend the first weekend matinee of a film in Santa Monica, the theater is virtually empty. Maybe half dozen people. This Saturday, when I went to see "Mr. & Mrs. Smith", the theater was probably more than half full. I think a lot of people were interested to see if the off screen relationship between... ah, come on... translated to some on screen chemistry. More on that later.
John and Jane Smith (Brad and Angelina) are having marriage troubles. During counseling, they talk about their stagnant, boring marriage; about how many times they have had sex in the last week, how many years they have been married, trying to hide the boredom in their voices. The therapist (who is always off-screen) asks them how they met. Flashing back, John and Jane meet in a hotel in Bogot, Columbia, as the rebels bomb the capital. Policemen are looking for tourists traveling alone, because someone just murdered a political figure. Using each other as an alibi, they pretend to be together. Hiding out, their passion overtakes them. Returning to the US, they date and then quickly get married. As married life takes hold, they quickly become complacent yuppies, living in a big house in the suburbs. Jane is frequently called out of the office to deal with IT emergencies at her own company. John is a contractor with clients all over the world. Letting us in on the secret, John and Jane are actually government assassins working, unbeknownst to each other, for competing agencies. They are each sent to intercept the same mark (Adam Brody, TV's "The OC") and get in each other's way, screwing up the job. Each of their agencies then wants them dead.
Directed by Doug Liman ("The Bourne Identity", the much underrated "Go", "Swingers"), "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" is a lot better than I could've imagined. Liman injects a lot of light-hearted humor throughout, helping to keep things light, breezy and entertaining.
"Smith" reminded me of a live action version of "Spy vs. Spy" with a touch of "War of the Roses" thrown in. Yes, the couple fights, trying to kill each other, but that is really only a small part of the story. Everything leading up to this point is amusing and fun to watch. Brad and Angelina play a married couple who are experiencing difficulties. As Tina Fey said on "Saturday Night Live", "If these two are having problems, what hope is there for the rest of us"? She was referring to Brad and Jennifer's split, but it is equally humorous when referring to two people who look as good as Brad and Angelina. As they discuss their marriage, we actually believe they are a couple who was once in love. Now, as they have to discuss their problems, they feel a little self-conscious and joke a lot about it.
They have each built such a believable cover that neither knows the truth about the other's real careers. Coming home one night, for `dinner at seven', as usual, John labors to hide his boredom when he asks Jane "Did you do something different tonight?" "I added peas". "Ah, yes. Peas."
After we become convinced that they are married, and hiding their secrets well, we get a look at their actual vocations. Liman deserves a lot of credit for creating a fantasy world which is so unbelievable, but fun and lighthearted. Because we are interested in watching what they are doing, we don't care that they are acting like James Bond on steroids. Nothing affects them and they are great on their assignments. Earning a lot of money.
There is a real `tongue in cheek' attitude flowing through every frame of the film. This helps to keep the action moving, the mood light and the story fun.
When they eventually realize who the other person really is, they engage in a game of cat and mouse, trying to kill each other. This is the least convincing aspect of the film, but it is a minor quibble. Does their marriage have no meaning to them? They have been married for six years and at the drop of a hat, they are ready to kill each other because their job demands it? What makes this bit of the film work is that a significant portion of it involves a slightly more intelligent game of each of them trying to figure out where they work, how they will strike, etc. Once the action moves to the "Spy vs. Spy" game, in their house, it lost me for a while.
After this point, they realize that they should work together and use their skills as a team. Remember, we are dealing with a non-existent reality in this film, so it works.
Throughout the film, the action is fast, the dialogue funny, and the tone breezy. All of these elements combine to create a film that is a lot of fun to watch.
They also have a lot of chemistry on screen together. When they meet, in Bogot, the seduction is convincing. As their relationship moves from bored-married-couple to ready-for-the-action assassins, they convince us to come along for the ride.