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Feature
Not to overstate the obvious, but making a movie in any one genre is a difficult undertaking, and crafting one that mixes more than one is even harder. So it goes without saying that finding a movie that actually succeeds in fusing one particular type with another is an equally difficult task since such pictures are very few and far between; for every Romancing the Stone there are dozens of other movies out there like Jewel of the Nile.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith
Mr. & Mrs. Smith is the latest of these genre hybrids, this time melding comedy and action. The film’s director, Doug Liman, is no stranger to either the comedy or action genres, helming such films as the indie hit Swingers and the criminally underrated comedy Go, while at the other end of the spectrum lending his talents to the superb spy thriller, The Bourne Identity. With such recent success in each the comedy and action genres, Liman would seem like a good choice to take the reins of Hollywood’s latest attempt in bringing these two diametrically opposed genres together.

John and Jane Smith (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie) are an average, middleclass couple that has found their relationship in a rut after five or six years of marriage. They spend their days coordinating dinner schedules, bickering over home furnishings, playing nice with their neighbours, and, like many couples in their situation, attending counselling sessions to try and fix what seems to be broken in their marriage. So mundane are their daily lives that you wouldn’t offer them a second glance in the chance of noticing anything out of the ordinary and you certainly wouldn’t mistake them for any one out of ten couples in any given suburb, that is unless you followed them to work. Both John and Jane hide a secret and another side of their lives from one another—they’re highly trained, highly skilled, and totally lethal assassins for hire.

Their relationship inexplicably changes, however, when they cross paths while both hunting the same target. All at once, their routine life with one another morphs into something of a completely different animal when their respective and competing employers mandate that each kill the other or be liquidated themselves. Now that John and Jane each know exactly who it is that they’ve married, it’ll take more than a few sessions of couples’ therapy to patch things up.

For the first half of Mr. & Mrs. Smith I was hooked on its deliciously, black comedy aspects and found myself smirking and chuckling during several scenes, but not so much as hour number two rolled along. I don’t think that I’m giving too much away in writing that the Smiths eventually come to a sort of reconciliation and team up, that much is given away in the trailers, and once they do much of what made the movie work for me at the start was gone.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith
The movie definitely works best when Pitt and Jolie are at each others’ throats in a continually escalating battle of one-upmanship that at times reminded me of Danny DeVito’s devilish divorce comedy, The War of the Roses. Director Doug Liman does a great job of performing a balancing act of comedy and action in making sure that one never overshadows the other, but once the leads are working together comedy takes a backseat to action and much of the charm found in the first hour gives way to car chases, explosions and a more serious tone than its more playful beginning.

Had the movie continued on throughout its entirety with the couple going at each other, I have little doubt that I’d be writing about one of the great, dark comedies in recent years, but that’s not to say the second half completely ruins the film as a whole even if it strays from the formula that makes the first half work. Quite the contrary, the action set pieces in the latter half of it are quite good, and Liman continues to prove those who doubted and scratched their heads at his selection as the director of The Bourne Identity wrong with some challenging and absolutely electrifying sequences.

Moving on past the fact that I think Mr. & Mrs. Smith blew an opportunity at being a work of great comedic promise and looking at the film for what it is, however, the one thing missing during the bullet whizzing third act is one, central bad guy character. It may seem cliché in action films such as this to want a face put on the protagonist, but I would have gladly taken that over the nameless hoards of attackers that the Smiths riddle with holes. I was a bit let down when it turned out that Vince Vaughn’s character wasn’t going to be that character and think the film would have benefited from not only throwing such a curveball at the audience, but just by having more of his character in the film and playing a more important part in it.

So without lamenting on what could have been, the overall question comes down to whether or not the movie works as a whole, and my answer to that would have to be that for the most part it does, and even when it doesn’t it's still not a bad movie. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are likable as the troubled couple and seem to be having a lot of fun with their respective roles, while Vince Vaughn steals every scene he can away from them in his few minutes of screen time. The comedy and quips fly just as fast and furious as the action and the production as a whole is first rate, but I only wish that the second half would have lived up to the first.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith
Overall, and while I think there was a lot of room for improvement in the screenplay and the choices made within it, Mr. & Mrs. Smith is still a decent way to spend a couple of hours and one of the better date movies in a long time. It has both plenty of romantic sparks and humour for the ladies and enough skin and explosions to keep the guys happy, and anyone who’s ever tried to decide on a movie to watch with their significant other can easily attest to the fact that those kinds of movies are certainly few and far between.

Video
Fox Home Video presents Mr. & Mrs. Smith with an anamorphically enhanced video transfer at its theatrically exhibited aspect ratio of 2.35:1 for its DVD debut and the results are a mixed bag. Mastered with an average bit-rate, the transfer is for the most part a quality presentation, suffering from only the slightest bit of grain during darker scenes and edge enhancement when some of the more elaborate special effects take centre stage, while the movie's extensive colour palette pops off the screen vibrantly. Where the transfer really lacks, however, is that for a major release such as the overall picture quality isn’t as good as it should be and too many times it’s a bit soft and too dark in places. On the upside, being a newly released film the print used for the transfer is flawless and contains no noticeable artefacts that would have resulted from dirt or debris on the source.

What would have definitely improved the transfer would have been to limit the number of audio tracks on the disc, as there happen to be seven in total, which would have allowed for a higher bit rate to be used when mastering the DVD video. Overall, the picture quality of the transfer is pretty good, but just not quite what one should expect for such a release.

Audio
Mr. & Mrs. Smith comes armed with an arsenal that includes several audio tracks, including Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 English, Dolby Surround in English, French, and Spanish, and optional subtitles in English, French, and Spanish. While both 5.1 tracks are great, the DTS track offers a higher calibre movie watching experience with its wider range. Every available channel on your home theatre system will definitely earn its keep with this disc, as once the high energy action sequences come so does an array of sounds from the surround channels and booming bass from the LFE channel that puts you right in the middle of the action. For the most part, dialogue is clear and is mixed with the rest of the sound design quite nice, only becoming muddled in a few of the action scenes during the film's second half. Overall, this is a reference quality disc for you to show off with and you shouldn't be shy to turn up the volume and enjoy.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith
Extras
Fox Home Video has provided a few of extras with this single-disc release of Mr. & Mrs. Smith, including such supplements as three audio commentaries, a making-of featurette, deleted scenes, and trailers, that should keep you busy for a couple of hours.

My favourite type of extra to be found on any DVD is the audio commentary feature, and Fox has gone all out to provide not one, but three such tracks on Mr. & Mrs. Smith. The first track features director Doug Liman and screenwriter Simon Kinberg, and as you would expect from a track containing what are arguably the two most important figures in making the movie, it is full of useful and entertaining insight into the production. The other two tracks—featuring producers Akiva Goldsman and Lucas Foster on one, and editor Michael Tronick, production designer Jeff Mann, and visual effects supervisor Kevin Elam on the other—both make for a good listen as well and each manage not to stray too far away from their level of expertise.

While all three tracks are reasonably good, your best bet is to stay with the first track featuring Liman and Kinberg, as the commentary provided is more well rounded and gives an overall larger look into the production than the other two tracks. Personally, I could have done without the second and third tracks on the disc as I found the first track to be more than sufficient, and removing the extra tracks would have also allowed for the film to be transferred to DVD with a higher bit rate.

Next up is a featurette, made for Fox Movie Channel, which details the making of one of the film’s more elaborate chase scenes involving Pitt and Jolie. The eight minute featurette is little more than a promotional piece for the film and doesn’t really get into too much detail about the making of the film as a whole, so as a substitute for a far more involved and lengthier piece on the making of the movie it just doesn’t cut the mustard.

Also included are three deleted scenes—‘John and Eddie in the Kitchen,’ ‘House Cleaning,’ and ‘Homemade Store Shootout.’—which were probably wisely left on the cutting room floor as they wouldn’t have managed to add much to the picture had they remained. The rest of the features centred on the featured film are its theatrical teaser and trailer and a commercial for the film’s soundtrack. Also included are a trailer for the upcoming thriller The Sentinel, starring Michael Douglas and Kiefer Sutherland, and an out of place spot for Family Guy on DVD.

Overall, the extras provided on the disc feel a bit light; while I love audio commentaries, the inclusion of three is overkill and I would have gladly traded the second and third tracks in for a better quality video transfer for the feature presentation in a heartbeat. Besides the commentary tracks, the other features supplied on the disc are little more than promotional fluff and you’ll quickly breeze though them and never give them a second look. Considering the fact that the film was a box office hit this past summer, it’s easy to get the sense that a two-disc special edition with far more extra material is waiting in the wings.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith
Overall
For the first half of Mr. & Mrs. Smith I was thoroughly enjoying myself and laughing along with its slightly askew and dark take on life in suburbia, but was a bit let down with the movie as it veered away from what made the first half work so well during its action oriented second hour. As far as rating the movie itself on our one to ten scale, I would have to give it a solid six, but if you plan on watching the movie with your better half, I'd say you could go ahead and bump that rating up a notch or two. So based on that rationale, and the fact that I watched it with my girlfriend who really enjoyed it, I'll split the difference and give the movie a seven out of ten.

Fox Home Video’s presentation of the film on DVD leaves something to be desired as well, and even though it features great audio, the video transfer suffers from the inclusion of no less than seven audio tracks, and besides a superfluous amount of commentary tracks, the extras don’t really amount to much once you give them the once over. Overall, I think a rental of the title will suffice for now, at least until a more fully loaded special edition comes around the bend.


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