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Contract Killers

. "Mr. and Mrs. Smith"

This romantic comedy on steroids takes the idea of marriage into a fantasyland of murder for hire with the panache of two of the most valuable (and attractive) screen luminaries of the year. Or, several years.

This is no "War of the Roses" wherein destruction and decimation was confined to the precincts of the household. This internecine marriage explosion goes beyond the happy home and utilizes an armory of weapons, helicopters, highway car chases and a few revealing moments with a marriage counselor.

In whose office we learn that the initial flame of John and Jane Smith's (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie) love-at-first-sight romance has cooled down these last 5 or 6 years. A question about how often they have sex goes embarrassingly unanswered by a couple who's never seen a Viagra pill. The unseen voice asks our team how they met, and the answer gets us started on the history of two contract killers coming together out of mutual need for cover, and then into the spell of mutual magnetism and deception.

Dinner is at 7. Always. And the inevitable question, "How was your day at work today, dear?" is always in reference to a non-existent idea of what that work really is. She's at the top of an all girlie-team of hi-tech specialists in assassination technique, with her as the star hitperson. He works for a firm topped by Eddie (Vince Vaughn) playing off-the-page funnyman tough guy who lives with momma, providing some chuckles outside the Smith domain.

She's all precision and planning; he's adaptation and innovation. She's tight and demanding; he loose and flexible. Are these people made for each other? Well, you know what they say... opposites attract -- even when they're in the same line of work.

After we get a taste of just how good they are, and when boredom is at its lowest and physical contact is all but abandoned, something happens to change the dynamic. Both killers get a contract from their respective agencies to take out the same mark in a remote area of the desert. She and her team set up electronic sensors, pulse generators and laptop controlled mechanisms. He rides in on a high-powered dune buggy and sports an oversized shoulder-carried missile launcher. Not recognizing the idiot who is spoiling her plans, she shoots him with her unerring eye, he falls, then rises with a chest pain... and takes her observation deck out with his massive firepower.

Never to worry, though. They survive to experience a whole new chapter in married life, and we are the benefactors of an adventurous madcap carnival of violence fueled by a supposed desire for retribution. These two going at each other in a blizzard of ordnance is just what the people who hire them want, and when the Smiths realize it, they team up in a spree of wild payback and emotional re-discovery.

The original concept comes from Simon Kinberg's ("XXX") master's thesis at Columbia, but it's probably safe to say he didn't imagine at the time that it would come to life with such high-scaled, physically attuned luminaries. It's almost a dream casting, where physical attraction and sensual chemistry require no convincing. But is it enough on which to hang such attentive detail and every trick in the book of stunts?

The combined movie star wattage of the dynamo pair explains it but material shallowness puts an overload on its 2 hour running time. By the time the bullets and cars stop flying, there's a sense of overkill. We want to see our special couple in this context, but do we want this much of them? Well, when your location shoot accomodates the two biggest personal trailers in the Hollywood motor pool, timidity and modesty don't enter the framework.

Cinematographer Bojan Bazelli's expert camera loves the Jolie face and any movie that exploits it in angles and modeled lighting is all right with me. Of course, it has much to do with the control her acting consistently embodies. Ooops, didn't mean to... oh, all right, the body's also fab. Pitt, it can be said, hits the right tone and has all the requisite equipment for a titillating Jolie partnership.

So, complaints about one-note characters aside, if you're in assassin mode you might want to line up the Smiths in your sights for an explosive summertime love story.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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