Sunday, June 12, 2005

REVIEW: Mr. & Mrs. Smith

Note: The following may be considered a spoiler to people who have not seen any trailers for this movie yet. You have been warned.

The big scene that "everyone will be talking about" from "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" comes a little over an hour in, and goes something like this: John and Jane Smith, an upscale suburban couple who's marriage zipped through the intersection of Boring and Distant years ago, have just discovered that each is (unbeknownst to the other) a top-secret asassin working for a competing agency, find themselves alone together at home. Each acting under a "kill or be killed" order from their respective Shadowy Employers, they trade fire in a John Woo-reminiscient gunbattle that tears their Ikea showroom of a house to pieces. When the ammo runs out, they break out the martial-arts, exchange beatings that Danny the Dog might gladly skip, arrive at a stalemate and... drop the weapons, tear off their clothes and have the best sex of their marriage (best sex of anyone's marriage, from the looks of it.)

I'm not kidding.

So, then... now that everything that ever need be said about the psychology of the Hollywood action-scene has been said... where do we go from here?

The big story surrounding the release of "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" has been that, for the first time in many moons, a studio has been openly concerned about the potential for a rumored offscreen cast dalliance to harm the boxoffice grosses: i.e. the notion of celeb-o-philes "boycotting" the release in protest of Brad Pitt divorcing actual-wife Jennifer Anniston for movie-wife Angelina Jolie. I have a hard time believing that there are enough people that broken up about this to matter, but in case you DO exist please put that issue of "Us" down slowly and repeat after me: It was only a TV show. Jennifer Anniston is not REALLY a "Friend" to whom you owe some kind of personal loyalty. You don't "know" ANY of these people. Their lives have no actual relevance to you. Please, please, please seek help.

At this point, boxoffice or not, all this "Access Hollywood" nonsense has managed to shift the focus away from the actual merits of the film itself. (And why not? Since it's such a mystery why a wealthy and powerful superstar would run off with a globe-hopping sexual-decathlete, after all...) Which is a real shame because the film itself is actually quite good. It's a big self-conscious lark, of course, a knowing farce that coasts along on star chemistry and the structural conciet of merging the stock-scenes of a romantic comedy with the stock-scenes of an action shoot-em-up: The Smiths argue over the proper operation of a mini-van... in the middle of a car chase. They engage the various troops sent to kill them... in a department store. Get it?

None of this adds up to, or is meant to add up to, a tremendous amount. It's a silly star-vehicle that bleeds it's premise for all it's worth and doesn't aim for any kind of higher purpose: The only time it even steps outside it's own central joke comes way into the 3rd act, and it's for a background gag involving a bit-player's T-shirt. Director Doug Liman has, yes, more good-movie street cred than you'd expect from someone helming so proudly commercial an enterprise as this, but that's sort of the point: Liman's auteur-instinct makes it all look far too good to be a fluff movie, the same way Pitt and Jolie look far to good to be just another bored married couple. (Jolie, in particular, looks once-again impossibly beautiful to the extent that, were there a complex plot to be distracted from, no one would be able to recall it.)

This is a studio cash-magnet movie, no two ways about it. It exists for no other reason than to draw as much of your money onto itself between now and this Wednesday when "Batman Begins" comes out. But it's a topscale action pic, the comedy works and yeah, the leads do have a certain remarkable chemistry, and did I mention Jolie turns up in a rubber dominatrix bodice? It's filmmaking-as-product, but I got what I paid for.