Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Mr. & Mrs. Smith: Tedious Poppycock

I knew this would stink from the beginning. It is a completely flawed premise. Now, I recognize that I gravitate towards all kind of fantastical things that many others would consider laughable. Such as a man who dresses up as a humanoid bat and fights criminals with nicknames like “the scarecrow” and “the joker.” But at least there are stakes and unexpected twists and turns in my beloved comic book stories.

There was nothing unexpected about anything in Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Do you honestly expect me to believe that two people could be married for five or six years and not have the slightest inkling, (especially considering that they are both in the stealth business) of what the other did? That it took that long for them to realize that something was amiss in their marriage? Totally and absolutely, preposterous and stupid.

Furthermore, since Pitt and Jolie were already together to begin with, there was no excitement about whether or not they are going to end up with one another, and it was obvious that by the end of the movie they would be together. This means that the central, driving relationship of the entire film lacked real stakes. Of course, the movie tries to sell you on the idea, that they had sort of drifted apart, and that when they discover each other’s true identity, they fall in love all over again. But they didn’t do a very good job of doing this, and it was all so predictable and boring. This is of course a huge surprise, considering that the screenwriter for Mr. and Mrs. Smith was Simon Kinberg, who wrote the masterpiece of subtlety XXX: State of the Union.

The film starts out showing Brad and Angie in a marriage counseling session. It’s obvious they are not happy with their relationship, and are no longer really romantically involved with one another. We get glimpses of their seemingly perfect life in a lovely suburban home, replete with fancy home appliances and coordinated luxury vehicles. We then see each of them “on the job” so to speak, though in retrospect, their professions are never really dealt with directly. We realize they are hit men of sorts, but it is unclear if it is government approved, who they actually work for, and all that sort of thing. I suppose the film makers probably thought we silly viewers shouldn’t concern ourselves with such things.

I have to confess, for the first twenty to thirty minutes, I was enjoying myself a bit. Both Pitt and Jolie are incredibly charismatic and have great screen presence. Pitt is funny and handsome as ever, though Jolie was the one who really shone. She is probably the most attractive woman working in Hollywood today, and has never looked better. Both sequences that showed the Mr. and Mrs. on the job were funny and fun. In his, Pitt pretends to be drunk and weasels his way into a poker game, only to lay all the players to waste when his target arrives. Jolie does a little send up on S & M, and then in a cleverly fun move converts her purse into a vertical zip line mechanism with which she plummets down the side of an NYC sky scraper.

Sure this was entertaining for a little while; I even tolerated the inane back story flashback of how the two met, in some seedy hotel in Colombia, South America, where they were instantly drawn to one another with “animal magnetism.”

But then my tolerance began to wear thin. Once the characters and the situation had been established, the main thrust of the plot began. Pitt and Jolie are each respectively given an assignment to assassinate some punk kid (played affably by Adam Brody from the OC). What neither of them realizes is that they’ve been given the same target. In what proceeds to be an incredibly confusing set up, the two make their way out to some desert locale to stake out the convoy of SUV’s carrying the kid across some border. But the mission goes awry for both Pitt and Jolie when they realize another assassin is on the job. This is where things start to get foolish.

Disgruntled that they have missed their target, and let down their bosses (whoever they might be) the two start to investigate who this other assassin might be. In a sequence that takes about five minutes, both Jolie and Pitt come to the conclusion that there is a strong chance their spouse is the mystery assassin.

But instead of picking up their cell and asking one another something along the lines of “Honey, is there something you want to tell me?” The two continue on with their charade and arrive home for dinner as usual. From the moment the two see each other, it is clear to the other that something is up. Pitt is so suspicious that his wife is out to kill him that he won’t even drink the martini she made for him. The proceeding scene at the dinner table which is meant to be “hilarious” is really just stupid and unrealistic. There’s no way this would happen. The film hasn’t shown thus far that these two people are so disconnected to one another that they don’t communicate at all. Obviously they do, they even decided to go to marriage counseling. They have dinner every night. They sleep in the same bed. So is it really believable that neither of them would bring up to the other that they think they might be an international assassin. Or at the very least come clean about their own identity to see what the other one says?

The nonsense only gets worse. Jolie runs out of the house in her car. Pitt shoots at her and she runs him over. Wha? How am I supposed to believe these two people ever cared for one another or are invested at all in their relationship with one another, when they’ve just tried to kill each other on nothing more based than a hunch? The murder attempts only continue. Pitt sneaks into Jolie’s office and tries to blow her up. Jolie escapes on another cool zip line gadget. Then in a sequence which makes about as much sense as a wool coat on a summer day, Pitt sifts through some of the exploded material from Jolie’s office and discovers a small segment of paper from a construction company. This leads him to a construction site where Jolie and her team, have staked out the joint and are sitting in some sort of surveillance truck. When Pitt is in an elevator, Jolie tries to blow him up, and for all intents and purposes kills him. Cut to a scene later that evening where Jolie sits at a restaurant sipping champagne, dinner for one at the first widow’s club or some such. The camera zooms in on Jolie's face as she sheds a single solitary tear for the husband she killed earlier. Wait a minute, are we supposed to believe she actually feels remorse for blowing him up? The film has given us no character development or evidence to show this. We are never shown why Jolie is so loyal to the company she works for, or why her allegiance to her boss would supersede the love she has/had for her husband of five years. If anything her single tear is a half assed display of emotion that I wasn’t buying.

Of course Pitt, didn’t really die in the elevator, and in fact, shows up at the restaurant to the surprise of Jolie. The two have some charged interactions that are of course absolutely implausible for a couple who’s been trying to kill each other. The flirtation between the two of them seems like it would work so much better if it was in the context, of perhaps two people who were just getting together. But the fact that they have known each other for six years… well it makes everything pretty ridiculous.

Their little game of cat and mouse culminates in a mildly amusing blow out brawl at their suburban palace which they destroy in the process. If there’s a positive that can be said about this movie, it’s that the filmmakers really did make an effort to portray Jolie as a complete equal to Pitt, in brains and brawn. There was actually something refreshing to me about watching the two get into a fist fight that was a pretty fair match. I guess it’s the latent feminist in me talking again, but I am so over that “I’d never hit a girl, B.S.” Go ahead and hit me and I’ll knock your block off, that’s what I always say. (I’ll forgo my diatribe on older men with younger women in Hollywood, despite the fact that Pitt is a whopping 12 years older than Jolie.)

Of course after fighting for a while the two lovebirds kiss and make up in a surprisingly uninspired love scene. My problem with the arc in their relationship is this. At the beginning of the film we jump directly from the couple in lustful bliss to aloof detachment. We know this happens over the course of six years, but we are not given a good idea of how or why. Sure we know that it is in part a product of that fact that they’ve led separate lives from one another, but it felt to me like so many pieces of the puzzle were missing.

Another issue which remained incredibly muddy throughout the film was the idea that the marriage was a cover for both Pitt and Jolie. When the MR. and MRS. discover the truth about the spouse, the idea that one of them may have been using the other comes up immediately. While it is an interesting idea to have the characters ponder just how much of a sham their lives together really was, there is no definitive scene that deals with this issue, and it remains quite unclear whether or not Pitt and Jolie used each other as a cover or not.

Once Pitt and Jolie have reconciled their differences they discover that a hit has been put out on their own heads, so they must team up and fight together in order to save themselves. They formulize a plan to kidnap the target (Adam Brody’s character) that they were originally supposed to take out, realizing he is the link between the two of them. Pitt and Jolie grab him with ease, and just when I think some rational plot explanations are going to come into play, (such as why the hell they were told to kill Brody) Brody confesses that it was all a set up. Brody was the bait, and both Pitt and Jolie’s employers wanted them dead because it was a hazard for two high profile hit men to be married together.

Uh, it only took their employers six years to come to this decision? Woweee, these guys sound like they’re really at the top of their game.

This flimsy explanation for a lot of the plotting of the movie came almost too late to make me really annoyed. I had lost any real interest in the film about an hour before hand. Jolie and Pitt than have one final big blowout with “the bad guys” whoever the hell they are, and the two live happily ever after. (On a side note, another problem with this film is that there was no bad guy, no villain plotting behind the scenes for the couple to take out together. I think the film could have definitely benefited from the inclusion of a visible physical bad guy for the two to team up against)

I had to keep myself from nodding off during the last action sequence that takes place in a department store home goods section. It was a lot of shooting and rolling on the ground in a poorly lit lack luster surrounding. My favorite action sequence in the film was the car chase on the bridge and highway when Pitt and Jolie are running away from “the bad guys” in little BMW’s that have these hot silver racing stripes. The chase was not particularly remarkable in anyway, but it was at least entertaining. Man oh man, Doug Liman, what is going on my man? You’ve gone from directing one of the biggest cult hits (Swingers) to directing a trashy Hollywood action comedy, that isn’t even funny. I never thought I would say this but Vince Vaughn in his small role as Pitt’s associate? Not funny. Well maybe a little funny at parts, but his fast-talking misogynistic schlep thing is getting a little old. Like I said before Pitt and Jolie have good star quality, but mostly due to the inadequate script were unable to develop any real characters, or create emotional moments with any depth.

I’d say unless you’re really boiling in your apartment with no AC, do not bother with this one. You’re better off just watching the trailer at home on your computer a bunch of times. It pretty much hits all the marks.


Anonymous Crazy Monk said...

Batman Begins, darnit!

7:45 AM  
Blogger The New Yorker said...

I know, I know, I'm seeing it tonight, and I can't wait! Yeehaw!!!

9:51 AM  

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