Mr. & Mrs. Smith
An attractive young couple is sitting in the (unseen) therapist's office answering his offscreen questions about their marriage. What you notice immediately is how much more compelling Angelina Jolie is to look at than Brad Pitt - how little magnetism Pitt has when he's on screen with someone else in the frame; he just dissolves into the background. His voice is uninteresting, his tone flat, his enunciation garbled. Jolie, on the other hand, makes us hang on every word or gesture; it's the mark of a natural star.
And that's one of the great problems with "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," a cute screenwriter's idea gone sadly wrong in the execution. The Smiths each work for a clandestine assassination firm, being handed contracts to fill on their various victims. They lie to each other; he tells her he's an engineer, she seems to be the perfect housewife. Early on, Pitt stumbles drunkenly into a backroom poker game, lets the players think he's an easy mark, then shoots them all. Jolie, in dominatrix mode, whips her willing target ("You've been a very bad boy," she says), then snaps his neck.
So far, so good, except that the film goes no farther; from that moment on we see little but an expanding array of firepower, explosions, car chases, fires and the obligatory thousands of bullet holes that somehow always fail to hit our couple. And where by rights - by film rights, anyway - Mr. and Mrs. Smith should be equals: loving, jabbing, lying, trading lines, doing all the things we expect from this genre - the balance is weighted heavily in Ms. Jolie's favor. Pitt is somehow just a lunk, unworthy as partner or opponent, unable to match her verbally or physically. And because the script has run out of good lines so early, there's nothing left to hold our interest.
Vince Vaughn has a small role as Pitt's assassination boss, still tied to his mother and living with her after many many years, but that too goes nowhere. We're told that the script was writer Simon Kinberg's master's thesis at Columbia; maybe one of his instructors could have let him know that a good idea isn't quite enough to make a whole film; that it needs a middle and an end in order to work.
Director Doug Liman, whose previous work includes the witty "Swingers," the strangely mysterious "Go" and the well-made "Bourne Identity," has been given so little to work with here that he fills it up with bang-bang; the film is simply tiresome. And who'd have thought that Pitt and Jolie would be so dull together? Jolie alone could have carried this film; maybe the sequel should just be "Mrs. Smith."