Mr. and Mrs. Smith suffers from Oceans 12 syndrome - Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie play cool without ever being cool. The director, Doug Liman, and the writer, Simon Kinberg, give them hollow, pseudo-clever lines that only accent her self-satisfaction and his brittleness. How tired is the humor? Before either knows the other is a professional assassin, he picks up a rifle at a carnival shooting gallery and wins a tiny stuffed bear. "Beginner's luck, I guess," he says. She picks up the rifle, scores five perfect bull's-eyes and quips, "Beginner's luck, I guess." Pitt and Jolie have never been the personality kids at the party, but Liman and Kinberg make them downright boring.
As far as the comedy goes, the movie continually proves that two half-wits don't make a whole. And the suspense is equally hollow. You could get stuck in line at the refreshment stand for as much as a full reel and not lose track of the plot or characters - which may be the worst thing you could say for a movie that's meant to be a comic thriller.
Of course, you might miss a laugh or two from Vince Vaughn, who as Pitt's longtime partner and longer-time mama's boy, turns nervous patter into priceless humor. He's a telepathic comic - you can almost see his Oedipus complex whirling through his forebrain. But he's the only actor with a pulse here.
It's hard to understand how Liman, who brought originality and flair to The Bourne Identity (2002), could have botched this marital farce cum shoot-'em-up. The Bourne Identity may have been "Beginner's luck, I guess." Or it may be that in trying too hard to make this entertainment smarter, Liman made it stupider.
After all, it takes a good (make that bad) half-hour for Pitt and Jolie, the Smiths, to learn what the audience knows: that they're "his and hers" assassins. The idea is that Mr. and Mrs. Smith start to break up after half a decade because they've kept their professions secret. Jane Smith thinks John Smith works in construction, he thinks she works with computers. In the would-be comical setup, they've used the spark they once had to create an illusion of a perfect suburban marriage instead of pooling their experiences and, you know, growing and sharing.
The forced humor of their marital-counseling - not even sex is happening anymore, though both look absolutely primed for it - must be meant to keep us from asking what kind of numbskull agents wouldn't sniff out the presence of a spy in their own bedroom? It takes each of their agencies assigning them the same hit, a nonentity played by Adam Brody, for them to uncover the truth. And, of course, they can't handle the truth - until, in a variation on the fistfight that bonds men in buddy movies, they fight almost to the finish, then fall into each other's arms.
Liman pitches the action impossibly high: He wants knowing gags about marital boredom to pay off in a format where the bigger the belt to the face or the kick to groin, the heartier the laugh. The movie's "money" scene, where the anti-bourgeois satire and the secret-agent stuff come together, occurs at a showdown in a housewares store, where the Smiths shoot up all the goods that make up the American good life while gunning down their enemies.
Liman's way of staging action worked in The Bourne Identity, when the whole point was to showcase extraordinary skills that an amnesiac assassin didn't know he had. But when Jolie and Pitt move together in an elaborate piece of choreography, linked arm to arm and firearm to firearm, and the camera whirls around them, the effect is distancing despite the spectacular shot. You feel as if you're watching someone else play a video game starring a human centipede. Or, maybe, not so human.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith sells its stars as commodities; they have none of the emotional glamour that Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway had even just playing chess in The Thomas Crown Affair. It's hard to know what these stars are ready for after this fiasco. Maybe a fitness video.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith
Starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie
Directed by Doug Liman
Released by 20th Century Fox
Time 120 minutes
Sun Score * 1/2 (1 star and 1 half star)