Mr. and Mrs. Smith


(12/14/2005)

The pre-theatrical release talk about Mr. and Mrs. Smith, starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in the title roles, was more about the actors' offscreen lives than their onscreen work. Is there romance there? Is this a publicity stunt? Do we really care?

Not being a reader of the magazines at the checkout aisle, I can't comment on the above. However, the movie, now available for home viewing, is a fair-to-middling romantic comedy which has a great deal of fun with the action/thriller genre. See, their ordinary names notwithstanding, the Smiths are actually contract killers, hit persons employed by rival murder-for-hire agencies. In their toney suburban home, packed with shiny appliances and pricey furnishings, they give off the appearance of stereotypical yuppies. He's a contractor (get it?) by trade; she's a computer problem troubleshooter, whose shooting occasionally gets her into trouble.

In fact, aside from their day jobs, they are veteran serial killers: he figures his victim total in the 60s; hers is 312. They met 5 (or 6) years ago when each supplied an alibi for the other. Now, he brings the mower in and stashes his armory beneath the tool shed; she makes breakfast then selects from her knife and pistol sets hidden beneath the oven. Then it's off to their workplaces, which are also cleverly contrasted false fronts.

The operative joke, for the first third or so, is that neither knows the other's true occupation. Their (obviously unbelievable) ignorance of each other's true present and past is played for laughs, as is the suburban setting"”nosy neighbors, picket fences, lawn sprinklers, and basketball nets"”by its ironic contrast with the action"”knifings, automatic weapons spraying, and grenades exploding. But the dialogue is consistently funnier, the two trading barbs of the kind Hepburn and Tracy used to fire at each other. (No, I'm not comparing Pitt/Jolie to those two.) Credit screenwriter Simon Kigel for much of the wit of these exchanges, and director Doug Leimen for getting the stars to underplay them.

This battle of the (equal) sexes gains comic momentum after they discover each others' true identities, or part of them, anyway. Shortly after the enlightenment, husband and wife set off to off one another. Romantic dinners gain a deadly undertone; tangos become dances of death, rather than desire. The marriage counseling sessions that begin and end the movie are fraught with double meanings, the moviemakers having fun with the jargon

In fact, all of this is for fun. Clearly, we're not intended to take any of this seriously, even as the bullets fly and the blood spurts. The over-the-top violence earns Mr. and Mrs. Smith a "PG-13" rating, along with some mostly tame sexual innuendo. Parents might have second thoughts about letting younger teens see a comedy about contract killers. But the violence is no more than that of the average video game, and the script is considerably more clever.

 

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