-By David Noh

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Besides the marital incompatibility which has them seeking marriage counseling after years of being wed, perfect yuppies John (Brad Pitt) and Jane (Angelina Jolie) Smith have a unique dilemma. They have discovered that they secretly share a profession as hired killers, further fueling their animosity. They resolve to kill each other, but their mutual mayhem is stalled when their own employers put out a death warrant on them.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith shares a title with a 1941 Alfred Hitchock rare excursion into screwball comedy. Although one of the Master's lesser efforts, despite the fine, farcical presence of Carole Lombard and Robert Montgomery, it plays like a masterpiece compared to this frenzied, fruitless farrago. It begins well enough, with the Smiths being interviewed by that unseen counselor; Jolie's sly comic timing, in particular, shines here. But this is followed by an uninspired montage of their disintegrating marriage and then endlessly violent scenes of them trying to annihilate each other. The good will engendered by the stars' charisma and some sharply done action sequences, as when Jolie escapes from a hit situation by coolly rappelling down the side of a skyscraper, soon dissipates and you are left rolling your eyes at the formulaic monotony: violence followed by a beat and some dumb, mordant wisecrack, repeated ad nauseam.

Simon Kinberg's script feels phoned in, while Doug Liman's direction, adept with the massive explosions which dot the film, utterly fails at generating any romantic magic. When the stars perform a satirically lethal tango, the scene falls flat, due to the clumsiness of its presentation (as well as Pitt's physical clumsiness). Their sex scenes are handled like collisions. The startled reactions of the Smiths' well-heeled neighbors (headed by Chris Weitz) are also devoid of any real comic fizz. The scenes involving Jane's coterie of sleekly groomed female co-workers in the murder biz (led by Kerry Washington) are rotely executed and singularly unappealing. a distaff James Bond idea which wasn't sufficiently developed.

Jolie remains one of nature's wonders, the sexiest woman on the screen, possessing the physical perfection of the young Ava Gardner, with an intriguing, rare mystery, plus acting skills that goddess never possessed. She promises untold depths of darkness and sexy perversity which the film never begins to mine. Pitt works hard, but, due to his eternal Huck Finn boyish raffishness, is completely unconvincing as any kind of white-collar suburbanite. Steve McQueen, whom Pitt rather resembles, was able to parlay his All-American juvenilia into something considerably more than that, but Pitt, lacking that certain mesmerizing, characterful weight McQueen possessed, is ever callow, even as he visibly ages. Adding to the leaden weight of this soulless enterprise is Vince Vaughn as his business partner. This actor's bullying buffoonishness has been too ubiquitous lately, especially in Be Cool, and until he reinvents himself, he would perhaps be wise to take a cinematic vacation.
-David Noh

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