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Mr. & Mrs. Smith (3/10)

by Tony Medley

Right near the beginning of this, Jane Smith (Angelina Jolie) says to a marriage counselor, “There’s this huge space between us that’s filled up with things we don’t say—what’s that called?” and her counselor responds, “Marriage.” When I heard that, after what I had knew about the movie, I was ready to bolt.

And what, pray, did I know? That this was directed by Doug Liman, who directed “The Bourne Identity,” (2002) a film I thought particularly poorly done. It wasn’t coincidence that for the sequel, “The Bourne Supremacy,” the producers got Paul Greengrass to direct, and it was an immeasurable improvement. In addition, the screenwriter is Simon Kinberg, who wrote the script for “XXX: State of Seige,” one of the worst movies of this year or any year, as well as “X-Men 3,” something you couldn’t pay me to see and they probably will. Kinberg is quoted as saying, “The idea came from my passion for Hong Kong action films. They…were cool, sleek, sexy and kinetic and all that became the impetus and framework for my original draft.” I hate Hong Kong action films.

Then I found out the running time was four minutes over two hours, which is consistent with “The Bourne Identity,” that also ran far too long (119 minutes), which, if you’re a little short in math, is one minute under two hours.

John Smith (Brad Pitt) is an assassin, as is Jane. Eventually they get assigned to assassinate each other. The story is hopelessly ludicrous. These people are supposed to be the best of the best when it comes to killing. Dead shots; cold-blooded. Yet when they are trying to kill one another in their house, they can’t even draw blood on the other, despite the fact that both are using automatic weapons and Jane is using shotguns that blast holes in walls. Even so, they hit absolutely every single thing in the house but what they’re aiming at, which is each other. Then after pouring thousands of rounds trying to do the other in, when each has a chance, each says, “I can’t do it.” Later, however, in the final denouement, they kill everything that even twitches with single shots, fighting off 312 people, just the two of them!

There are some disgusting violent scenes, like the ones in which John and Jane are fighting each other. This is even more violent than the fight between Sean Thornton (John Wayne) and Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen) in “The Quiet Man” (1952). They hit each other with everything they’ve got. There is one particularly egregious scene in which John is pictured kicking an unseen Jane time and again while she’s down. Naturally (remember, this is present-day, politically correct Hollywood where there is no difference between men and women unless they’re trying to sell tickets and then they’ll expose a breast or two), Jane gives as good as she gets and the seemingly much stronger physically John can’t get the best of her. But to see a man pummel a woman, and a husband pummel his wife, is sinking to the lower levels 21st Century Hollywood seems to prefer. These scenes aren’t funny; they’re nauseating.

I don’t know which is worse, Kinberg’s script or Liman’s directing. This is not only full of holes, it’s replete with silly stunts. The worst is the car chase. Liman was specifically prohibited from directing the Bourne sequel by the producers who had had enough of him, even though he had a contractual commitment (so he got an Executive Producer credit). He must be smarting from being excluded from the Bourne sequel, which was magnificently directed by Paul Greengrass and contained the best car chase since “Bullitt” (1966), so he put one in here. Although it was really the primary responsibility of second unit director Simon Crane, it’s still Liman’s ultimate responsibility since he’s the director. It is one of the silliest car chases I’ve ever seen on film, and I’ve seen a lot.

Kinberg’s script clumsily overreaches to insert what he apparently thought was “clever” repartee between John and Jane. Instead of sparkling and witty, it is fatuous. I was seated next to a professional laugher who laughed heartily at anything and everything. There were a few others in the audience who chuckled occasionally, but I got the feeling they were making laughing noises to let people around them know that they got the joke and were really groovy people.

I don’t care who the actors are. You can take Cary Grant and Spencer Tracy and Russell Crowe and Humphrey Bogart and Grace Kelly and Renée Zellweger and Ingrid Bergman, but if you’ve got a bad writer and inept director, you’re not going to have an entertainment worth diddlysquat.

May 25, 2005