" Nobody goes into the valley of death. That’s why they call it the valley of death. "
— Grant Heslov, The Scorpion King

MRQE Top Critic

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The running joke in Mr. & Mrs. Smith, the enjoyable action-adventure comedy starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie as partners in a stale marriage, is neatly summed up when their marriage counselor soothingly assures, “You might think you are the only ones, but millions of couples share these exact problems.”

What their marriage counselor doesn’t know is that although, like many other unions, the Smiths’ is built on lies, these are lies of a different caliber. After John and Jane meet while on assignments in Colombia, give each other cover, and fall into bed and then marriage, John tells Jane he’s a big-shot building contractor, and Jane tells John she’s a computer expert on Wall Street. They marry, only to learn later that they are both assassins who have been hired to kill one another. The rest of the film forces them to weigh their professionalism against their attachment to one another.

The Five- or Six-Year Itch

Just your average Americans with the reflexes of cats
Just your average Americans with the reflexes of cats

To one another, John and Jane have maintained their fake identities, so a few years into their union, every night at seven John is shaking his martini, Jane is serving dinner, and John is contriving a fresh compliment on the meal. Dreary discussions of home decorating set the tone, with work providing their only source of intrigue and excitement. Competition tends to trump compromise in their interactions: when they leave the house at exactly the same time in the morning, they tear out of the garage, and try to beat each other through the single-car-width driveway. Jane wins, and they zip off in opposite directions.

The slight plot involves their capture of a young villain (played by Adam Brody, who in one scene sports a Fight Club t-shirt), bait for the endlessly bickering couple. Their new hostage demands, “Who are you people?” “Maybe it’s not such a good idea to undermine me in front of the hostage,” Mr. Smith chides his wife, who believes she can do everything better. The hostage nods his agreement.

Pitt and Jolie provide the whole show here, with minor supporting roles played by Vince Vaughn (Swingers, Dodgeball) and Kerry Washington (Ray), who are often upstaged by the flashy gadgets and beautifully decorated sets. At the neighbors’ holiday party, the guys commiserate about the recent beating they have taken in the stock market and John quips, “I’ve got all my dope hidden under the tool shed.” Later Pitt descends the stairs under the shed and reveals his secret arsenal of sophisticated weaponry. When Jane presses a series of buttons on the keypad of her stainless steel oven, the assembly slides open to display an array of gleaming knives. I coveted her handbag: It allows her to belay down the side of a building after completing one of her assignments.

All’s Unfair in Love and War

Like their chats with the marriage counselor, who assumes the source of their problems is past relationships or infidelities, the couple’s conversations often hint at two meanings, like the one when they compare the number of assassinations each of them has completed:

She: “How many were there?”

He: “Well, I haven’t exactly kept track, but high 50s, or low 60s. How about you?”

She: “312.”

He looks deflated.

She: “Some were two at a time.”

He: “God!

Director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) and writer Simon Kinberg could have tried to pass this kind of gag off as the entire film, but they allow the couple’s animosity and mutual deceptions to set the tone as the pair discover their true roles in each other’s lives.

Everything He Can Do She Can Do Better

Another comic conceit that works well in Mr. & Mrs. Smith is that he plays the sentimental fool to Mrs. Smith’s tough pragmatist. When they recall meeting each other for the first time, he reminisces, “I thought you looked like Christmas morning.” Says she: “I thought you were the most beautiful mark I had ever seen.” Given opportunities to do him in, however, she finds she can’t pull the trigger. After one such intimate encounter, Pitt yells, “Chickenshit!” “Pussy!” Jolie shrieks back at him, and he lets you see the insult sting when it hits home.

In a lengthy driving-and-shooting chase sequence, John is at the wheel of a neighbor’s minivan they’ve commandeered, when Jane demands, “Give me the wheel! I’m the suburban housewife, after all!” And naturally, her evasive driving skills prove to outstrip his.

These snippets of snappy dialogue provide sparkle amidst the often overlong shoot-em-up and chase scenes. While they evade pursuit on the highway, the Smiths find a few breathless moments to set their own records straight. “By the way, I didn’t go to MIT. Notre Dame,” John explains, as he reloads and she swerves to avoid gunfire from a trio of black BMWs. “Art history.” “Art…?” Jane says quizzically, as if she’s seeing him for the first time. “Art history,” he protests. “It’s respectable!

At Least They Spare the Espresso Machine

It’s obvious that the writer and director would like to evoke the flying sparks of the old Tracy and Hepburn era, but the lack of any true romance between the couple from the beginning means there’s little at stake in their march toward mutual destruction. Pitt and Jolie toss off plenty of amusing one-liners, but as they take shots at each other inside their expensive house, à la The War of the Roses, I often felt sorrier to see the destruction of their beautiful kitchen than I felt about the scratches and bruises they inflict upon one another.

The plot of this entertaining summer movie doesn’t always take you where you would expect, which is a pleasant surprise in this swiftly moving, action-packed attempt at romantic comedy. But even with its attractive actors, a good score by John Powell, fun James Bond-style gadgetry, and pretty sets, ultimately all that generates heat in Mr. & Mrs. Smith is the explosive weaponry.