Eye For Film >> Movies >> Mr & Mrs Smith (2005) Film Review
Every now and then a film comes along that is so unremittingly dreadful that it’s difficult when writing about it to know where to begin. Mr & Mrs Smith is such a film – an insultingly cynical excuse to create a vehicle for its two stars around a single uninteresting idea: that behind the conservative façade of their perfect suburban marriage lies cold-blooded serial contract murder (later spiced up with reciprocal acts of domestic violence). It’s been done before and this shallow, obnoxious retread lacks the dark wit and intelligence of Prizzi’s Honour and The War Of The Roses, the two films it most conspicuously and incompetently plunders. It feels like a thin but marketable premise in search of a movie, a suspicion reinforced by the sheer awfulness of a script which offers no plot worth mentioning, no line of dialogue worth repeating and not a single memorable character or scene.
The narrative is sloppy, absurd and depressingly immature but, in any case, is clumsily subordinated to a series of spuriously linked scenes contrived to appeal to the lowest common denominator in its intended male demographic. In other words: car chases, endless explosions, fetishisation of farcically efficient hi-tech gadgetry and computer software, interminable badly staged shoot-outs involving vast arsenals of military hardware, self-congratulatory cynicism, a really annoying cameo by Vince Vaughan, tedious quipping, a dim preening alpha male hero and an irrelevant scene in which Angelina Jolie plays a PVC-clad dominatrix.
Neither of the stars around whom this mess has been constructed (if that’s the right word) have ever stuck me as especially brilliant actors, even when they have been fortunate enough to appear in decent movies or to work with gifted directors. The total lack of characterisation, however, means that in addition to their mediocrity they are unfairly expected to carry the entire picture with their charm and charisma, presumably in the hope that there will be at least one critic out there stupid enough to describe their pairing as “sizzling” or, better still, “effortlessly cool”.
The above criticism may sound to some like the bitter ravings of reactionary cinema snob, but my problem is less with the kind of movie Mr & Mrs Smith aspires to be, than how far short of these aspirations it falls. Just because a blockbuster is designed primarily as undemanding low-brow entertainment, that doesn’t mean that it should be allowed to take its audience for granted or insult their intelligence with impunity. It’s not so much that the makers don’t recognise the difference between a gripping story and a piece of derivative drek. It’s just that either they don’t care, or they think that the target audience is too thick to notice.
With this in mind, one might be tempted to ask how, if the film is the unmitigated disaster that I contend, it managed to take $200m at the US box office and $428m worldwide? The first (and more dismaying) answer is that perhaps the cynics are at least half-right – audiences (or at least a sizeable chunk of them) really are thick. Certainly, only on very rare occasions is popular taste an accurate way of measuring the quality of either art or entertainment (anyone who has ever suffered the ordeal of watching 1970s box office smash Love Story from start to finish will know what I’m talking about).
However, the second and more important cause of this film’s undeserved success is that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie did the publicity department a huge service by falling for one another during production. Hysterical speculation and gossip about the extent to which this torpedoed Pitt’s marriage to Jennifer Aniston ensured that cinemas would be crammed, not just with testosterone junkies in No Fear shirts, but also with Heat magazine reading rubber-neckers hoping to spot the moment when Hollywood’s latest Dream Marriage fell apart.
Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw’s affair on the set of Sam Peckinpah’s 1972 heist movie The Getaway likewise brought an end to McGraw’s own high-profile marriage to producer Robert Evans and helped revive Peckinpah’s ailing career at the box office. However, the reason that The Getaway has endured and Mr & Mrs Smith won’t is that the former’s narrative was not originally conceived as an empty vessel for the vanity of its stars. It already existed as a Jim Thompson novel, which was then adapted into a fine script by Walter Hill as a result of the story’s cinematic potential. In fact, so strong was the source material that it survived both McGraw’s dreadful performance and a completely pointless and almost identical remake 22 years later starring (real-life couple) Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger. Secondly, The Getaway was directed by a talented artist at the peak of his powers, whereas Mr & Mrs Smith has been directed by a hack.
It would be unfair to suggest that Doug Liman is without talent. His superficial but entertaining debut, Swingers and, to a lesser extent, its follow-up Go both showed style and promise. Unfortunately, since then his career has become progressively less interesting as he has allowed any trace of an authorial signature to become submerged beneath ever-expanding budgets. Mr & Mrs Smith is the nadir (so far) of that downward spiral.Reviewed on: 19 Nov 2005
If you like this, try:True Lies