In her re-view of Doug Liman’s Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Rachel Graf gets terribly bored and starts making up pre-Scandal Olivia Pope backstories.
For a film about a spy-assassin couple, played by A-list movie stars who fell in love on set,Mr. & Mrs. Smith is incredibly boring. It attempts to spoof two genres, action and rom-com, and largely fails to deliver the engagement of either. I did not remember how bad this film was. I did not remember much about it, aside from a general sense of enjoyment. Ten Years Ago asks how well films hold up over time and how we as viewers have changed. In my previous re-views I’ve focused on the emotional valiances of that second question, but there really isn’t enough going on in Smith for that. What is clear is I am now harder to please.
While I don’t remember actually seeing the movie the first time (I did see it, but the day holds no memory) I have a clear mental image of myself leaning over the counter at the CVS where I worked as a cashier, peering at US Weekly‘s coverage of Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston’s divorce. Technically speaking, employees were not to read the magazines while on the clock, but around 10pm customers appeared in 20 minute intervals, and I thought the risk of being scolded was worth the mild entertainment. That tells you something about why I was able to enjoy Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Two nights a week and one weekend day, after sitting through tedious high school classes, I passed hours monotonously scanning greeting cards and makeup. Occasionally someone would have an amusing purchase like a pack of condoms and hemorrhoid cream. (NB: that purchase never happened. In my boredom I imagined it.)
For my re-view, I made my partner James watch with me. He also saw the film with no distinct memory of it. He was willing, but not optimistic: “I feel like I remember this being a real piece of garbage.” At two full hours this movie is too long by half. Literally, I was bored until 1:10 or so when Angelina and Brad have realized they share the same secret, pretend tried to kill each other while making 1950s era marital jokes like, “I haven’t been satisfied in years,” and finally start fighting as a team. The special effects and choreography get better around this mark, too.
I know the actors fell in love or whatever, but they really seem to have no on-screen chemistry. It doesn’t help that the film devotes half an hour to establishing that their married life is boring and fake. One could imagine an interesting play on the difficulty of achieving genuine contact for people who make their livelihood performing, as they necessarily do in each assassin guise. Maybe their marriage is boring, because they don’t know how to be authentic. Nothing in the film itself makes me engage with this or any other explanation for the stilted conversation and blank faces that read simply as bad acting. Not the music, which is mixed oddly loud relative to dialogue, and certainly not the cinematography, which comprises unimaginative shot-reverse-shot wide angles. These are beautiful actors. Show me their faces! They have sexy bodies!
Everything about the marketing of Mr. & Mrs. Smith promises sexy action flick. So I’m willing to accept the implausibility of its premise. If these two are such amazing spy-assassins, why hasn’t it dawned on them that their spouses are in the same line of work? Fine, I accept that. In a “twist” we learn that their respective agencies each discovered the marriage, which is “bad for business.” Rather than simply kill them, the agencies conspire to trick the Smiths in to targeting one another by sending them both after the same third party. Why do the agencies work together instead of each independently targeting the opposition? Unclear. Why do they use a third party as bait, rather than commission them immediately to kill each other, which becomes the directive halfway through the movie? Narrative purposes. James was really bothered that the film asked us to suspend quite so much disbelief. Having watched most Bond movies, I’m perfectly willing to go along for the ride if there’s witty dialogue and/or compelling action. Mr. & Mrs. Smith offers little of either.
But okay, enough complaining, right? Here are some things I did enjoy:
– Girl power! This movie takes the idea of a capable female very seriously. Jane and John seem equally matched early on, but there are many moments that seem to tip the scales in her favor. Jane is a better shot, a better stunt driver, better at making people talk, has killed four times as many targets, not to mention better at making a dramatic escape. Except for the telephone voice of her boss, her entire agency is badass women.
– If I imagine that Jane is really the much better assassin, I can accept John’s foolish plan to target her at her headquarters. He goes there alone. She’s got her girl-power crew. She’s got surveillance equipment. But I accept all this, because he’s not all that good at his job. That said, when he shows up, everyone working with Angelina (Jane) seems to feel threatened indeed by this one-man invasion. They abandon ship, zip-lining to the safety of another skyscraper. Zip-lines that, for some unexplained reason, Brad (John) doesn’t use to give chase.
– There’s a shot of Jane jumping off a building using a purse as her anchor that’s pretty baller.
– Angelina Jolie, generally.
– What I thought was a parody of rom-com sex scenes. You know that trope where a couple hooking up for the first time enters an apartment and in their crazy passion knock into everything in their path? The Smiths’ tear-the-house-apart-fight scene looks a lot like this, with similar musical accompaniment, as the two barrel each other into walls and take cheap punches. Unfortunately, this almost parody is immediately followed by an actual rough-sex montage that sort of undercuts my idea that the joke was intentional.
– Kerry Washington. I didn’t know who she was ten years ago. Now I imagine her as Olivia Pope backstory. Olivia works for a big assassin agency, her boss kills everyone else so she can stay married to her assassin husband, and Olivia moves to DC to put her knowledge of spy tactics to better use.
– There was a scene with a baby and a two-second close up of the baby’s face. I enjoyed this both because I always enjoy looking at young mammals and because it was a rare moment of deliberate editing to contrast Jane’s discontentedness with the baby’s just-threw-up-on-mom-glee.
Free-Floating Thoughts: more stuff I could complain about
– For fun, the characters engage in what James called “Mountain Dew Extreme Sports”: boxing and canyon rock climbing. Jane does the latter, which is more evidence for her superiority.
– The Smiths keep their spy gear in gender-normative locations. She’s got knives in the oven. He’s got guns in the garage.
– Vince Vaughn’s character is really gross. He makes a racist sex joke about ice cream flavors to the waitress at the diner where he is apparently a regular.
– Jane talks to herself a lot.
– The Smith house looks like no one’s home ever. It is huge. They sit down to dinner at opposite ends of a candlelit table, a table long enough to provoke arguments about being unable to reach for the salt. Other than Mr. Burns, who does that?
– Finally this bit of moving dialogue, delivered as the characters race home to kill each other:
“The first time we met, I thought you looked like Christmas morning.”
“Why are you telling me this now?”
“I guess in the end you start thinking about the beginning. I thought you should know.”