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At the outset I would like to say that if there is any chance you might not have seen the trailers to this movie and somehow avoided all of the reviews, thus not knowing anything about the plot, it would be much, much better with a key surprise left intact. Unfortunately even the poster pretty-much gives away the concept so it would be impossible to write a review without mentioning it. It is a terrible shame that they did not keep this one a secret. So beware, you have been warned.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith
Movies about assassins probably deserve their own genre considering how popular a subject it has become over the last few years. From the superior ( Léon) to the very good ( Nikita, Grosse Point Blank, Woo's The Killers, Cruise's Collateral) the mediocre (Stallone's Assassins and The Specialist) and the dire (the Nikita remake, Point of No Return aka. The Assassin), the last fifteen years or so have been rife with movies about hit-men. To be honest, it is quite hard to bring something different to these type of stories—it all tends to boil down to smart suits and silenced handguns, but the better movies have tried their best to be something more (and Léon went on to become one of my top five movies). Now we get Mr. and Mrs. Smith, a romantic comedy action movie, about assassins.

Feature


John and Jane Smith are a seemingly happy couple. They live a pretty normal but almost mundane existence of shared meals, kissed farewells and chats about the colour of their curtains. They even go to therapy together, purportedly to iron out their differences. It turns out, however, that they have a lot more in common than they both realise. You see, they both have secret lives—they are both assassins. We're not talking some street-punks you might hire in a bar, or leather coat wearing mafia hit-men, they are the best at their game. Armed to the teeth with the latest military equipment, they swoop into high risk situations, execute their targets with professionalism and glide out using gadgets that would make Bond jealous. Of course they don't know what each other truly do for a living, lying and pretending on a daily basis and always staying one step ahead of being caught until one day they meet on an operation and suddenly—understandably—everything changes. Cue lots of matrimonial gunplay, fisticuffs and general banter as the fight their way to a stalemate before deciding what they are going to do from then on. Needless to say the respective agencies that employ them are none too happy about the situation that they are in and require each one to kill the other or risk being cancelled themselves. Will they be able to survive and—more importantly—save their marriage.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith is an unusual animal. It is a romantic comedy action vehicle which weighs heavily on the final element to keep audiences gripped. Many of movies over the years have adopted a similarly strange mix to lighten an otherwise potentially serious subject and make the proceedings more appealing for a wider audience, but with debatable results. The trouble is, if you go for a Last Action Hero-style near-spoof, you risk losing all sense of dramatic tension and potentially all interest that the audiences might have in the outcome of the endeavour. It is a joke, after all. Thankfully here they have kept the comedy almost entirely in line with the dramatic situation, only occasionally introducing it into the action to allow the characters to have a bit of fun. And the result is that it largely works. Sure, they spend an almost overlong time at the beginning introducing you to a situation which, if you have seen the trailer, you are already well versed in - before cutting to the action - but once the more important story elements kick it the movie becomes much more enjoyable.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith
A lot of the praise for this should really be laid upon the shoulders of the Smiths, or at least the actors who portray them. Originally due to be Brad Pitt and Nicole Kidman, when Kidman left, so did Pitt, and Johnny Depp was considered as a replacement lead. However, when Angelina Jolie was signed on, Pitt was understandably eager to be on board once again. They are both big names to have associated with a picture like this and it is nice to see them get together and have so much fun and, to be honest, I'm certain Kidman couldn't have done a better job than Jolie even if Johnny Depp could have given Pitt a run for his money as Mr. Smith (and it might have been an interesting new role for him to take on). Still, what we have here is a good combination. Pitt turns in a performance that will go down as yet another standard Brad Pitt character (the likes of which we have seen in everything from Fight Club to The Mexican—which, arguably, this draws some comparisons to) but this is not a criticism. He is an immensely watchable actor, even if he is almost always playing 'himself'. There have been noticeable exceptions, like Se7en and Twelve Monkeys, but I am quite happy to see him doing his thing in a harmless action-comedy like this.

Angelina Jolie is undeniably beautiful, but I'm not sure whether I've often seen her show much talent in her roles. Again, there are exceptions—I thought she was particularly noteworthy in Alexander (amidst an otherwise poorly chosen cast, headed up by a completely out-of-place Colin Farrell) and her performance in Girl Interrupted was unusual, to say the least, but largely she appears to get roles based upon her other assets. Her Tomb Raider exploits have already proven that she is a capable action heroine but she has never been able to combine these skills with anything other than wooden acting (after all, Lara Croft isn't exactly a very meaty role to play). As for romantic comedies, she starred with Edward Burns in the disappointing Life or Something Like It, which only really cemented the fact that she should avoid this genre in future. Here, as Jane Smith, she is totally at ease. Whether dressing in sexy black PVC for a mission, wielding a sniper rifle or verbally (and physically) sparring with her husband, the character seems practically tailored for her. Understandably she relies heavily on Brad Pitt's quick wit and occasionally almost slapstick antics to provide a foil to her slightly more straight behaviour, but this works a treat given the fact that her character is often the more professional of the two. They both seem very comfortable with one another and it is a joy to watch them together for almost the entire runtime of the movie, either fighting amidst themselves or against others.

It is also worth mentioning Vince Vaughn, despite the fact that his role is criminally small. As I've often read and agree, he's never really beaten his Swingers performance alongside Jon Favreau but he is still consistently one of the funniest elements of anything he gets a part in, however big or small, and this is no exception. There were also other relatively well-known names associated with the production at one stage or another (both Keith David and Angela Bassett were supposed to be the heads of the respective organisations that Jane and John worked for, however they were all but completely wiped from this cut of the movie, with their voices being the only remaining factor (which can be heard giving John and Jane their mission profiles). From what I have gleaned, the ending of the movie suffered several re-shoots and much editing (including the removal of those aforementioned actors) and you can tell from the abruptness of it that perhaps something is missing, but it is still a reasonably unexpected way for things to go (even if it doesn't make a great deal of sense).

Mr. & Mrs. Smith
Overall it is a perfectly enjoyable couple of hours' worth of watching. Predominantly a romantic drama at first, it soon shifts to comedy and action, shifting the action up a gear for the crescendo to the finale, and this formula capably keeps you interested for the duration (In fact it reminded me a great deal of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid spliced with Grosse Point Blank - although not as good as either—in its mixture of action, comedy and relationships). Fans of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt will happily sit back to see their favourite stars trade bullets and banter, and the melting-pot mix of genres potentially makes this attractive for wider audiences—just don't expect it to be particularly standout in any one of them, even if it does a pretty good job at being satisfying as a whole.

Video


Mr. and Mrs. Smith is presented with an anamorphic 2.35:1 aspect ratio widescreen transfer that looks absolutely fabulous. It has excellent detail throughout, with few scenes that exhibit any discernable softness, a little noticeable but negligible edge enhancement (mainly during the effects shots) but simply no grain. The colour scheme is broad and well represented, from the superb skin tones to the golden sun-blazed desert sequences and clinical metallic gleam of the military buildings. Blacks are deep and solid. The transfer also exhibits absolutely no sign of print damage at all, rounding off a stellar presentation for the movie.

Audio


This release also comes with two outstanding six-speaker surround sound tracks: in Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1. Both sound pretty fantastic, but—as you would expect—the DTS has the slight edge in terms of power. Dialogue comes predominantly from the frontal array but, with effects spinning all around you—from crashes to massive explosions and, of course, ballistic gunplay, there is plenty to keep the surrounds occupied. The score is almost constant throughout, ranging from Bond-like orchestral pieces to loud rock music and frantic techno-beats, all building up suitably during the action moments and also giving the surrounds plenty to do. They even allow for some bass when you turn the volume up. One minor niggle is that sometimes the effects and the score overwhelm Brad's witty but mumbled retorts. Still overall these are boisterous, powerful tracks that will draw you into the more thrilling moments in the movie.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith

Extras


We get not one but two audio commentaries for Mr. and Mrs. Smith, one with the director Doug Liman and screenwriter Simon Kinberg and the other with producers Akiva Goldsman and Lucas Foster. The first hears them discussing what was shot when, the availability of the two big name stars, what action was removed in drafts to make for more relationship stuff, getting Brad drunk in order to get him to dance, talking about Bourne Identity, Swingers, talking about Angie's limited comedic abilities in comparison with Brad who had to be restricted from going off the rails, using the desert location instead of snow-capped mountains because of budgetary restraints and eventually discussing the characters whose scenes were dramatically reduced (Angela Bassett and Keith David). There is a cut of the movie with them in it apparently as well...

The second commentary has the producers talking about how this is basically a romantic comedy with gunfire (hmm, I think it's got a little more gunfire than romance or comedy), alternate title sequences, using the uncomfortable unfamiliarity of their first days together to shoot the psychiatrist sequences, extra action they cut out, Vince Vaughn being a genius and making up loads of funny stuff, Brad riding around on dune buggies late at night and generally offering as interesting a track as the director and screenwriter. Both commentaries are worth your time if you enjoyed the movie and if you like listening to the anecdotes and insights that the crew can offer about a production.

The ‘Making a Scene’ featurette is eight minutes long and looks at the brief 'discovery' scene, with behind the scenes footage and interviews with the major crew members dissecting it (also unfortunately praising flawless VFX that you can quite easily see are effects). It is interesting to hear how they had several different versions of the scene planned and how the end result actually was an improvised outtake that was kept in for the final cut but it is a shame that all of the footage is just from that final version, repeatedly showing you a scene which you are already familiar with.

There are three deleted scenes, totalling eight minutes of footage and adding more comedy (from Vince Vaughn), a little more filler and some extra action (a whole floor of ballistic fun during the shopping mall shootout). I can see why they were removed (or basically edited out since they are all just extensions to existing scenes) but none of them would have been out of place on an extended edition DVD (perhaps optionally seamlessly integrated back in). What I would have really liked to have seen were the rumoured alternate endings, which might have made a little more sense.

There are also trailers for the main feature (which pretty-much give away the entire plot from start to finish) and trailers on disc start-up for the solid fourth season of the excellent Kiefer Sutherland terrorism series 24, the enjoyable if by-the-numbers Fantastic Four comic-book adventure, the superior drama Crash and the acclaimed Cameron Diaz / Toni Collette movie In Her Shoes.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith

Overall


Mr. and Mrs. Smith is a rather strange but not unpleasant creation. Part comedy, part romantic drama and mostly action, it presents two top A-list stars looking like they’re having a whale of a time on screen. Movies about assassins are generally quite difficult to bring anything new to (although Collateral is a notable recent exception, aside from its ending) and they have done a pretty good job at coming up with something different here, but it still may not be to everybody's tastes—it neither fully satisfies as a comedy, romantic drama or an all-out actioner, because of the incongruous nature of its constitution, although it does work quite well as a whole. Presentation-wise the DVD has an excellent transfer, two resoundingly powerful audio tracks and a wealth of extras but be forewarned, an upcoming uncut edition (with plenty of steamy sex—notably absent from the 'sex' scene in this version) is rumoured to be in the pipeline—probably in two-disc format. Fans of Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt are likely not to want to wait, however and they are unlikely to be disappointed with this release.


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