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Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005)

You know it, and so does everyone else. Political prisoners locked away for decades in North Korea may not know that men have landed on the moon, but they've still heard of "Brangelina," the couple's semi-secretive international vacations, and even their penchant for whispered longings over Vive la French toast in waffle-houses tucked away in sleepy Arizona border towns. And if they know that much, then its obvious to everyone except the extremely comatose that Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005) is where it all began. Which is sort of a shame. Not in the sense that folks who write gossip columns and tabloid items remain knee-deep in ink — after all, they need jobs too. But despite the public's fascination with Celebrity, Brad and Angie are not Paris and Nicole. Media creations court celebrity with the help of press agents and piles of expendable cash. Before they were rendered in headline-friendly portmanteau, Mr. Pitt and Ms. Jolie were, and remain, authentic movie stars of the list that's marked 'A'. The mere fact that they avoid publicity only generates more. And Mr. & Mrs. Smith is no stunt or vanity project — it's one of Hollywood's better efforts at big-budget, high-volume summer entertainment.

Located in an alternate universe somewhere between a Frederick Forsyth novel and a James Bond movie, Pitt and Jolie star as the title characters, John and Jane Smith, a couple who have been married for five (or is it six?) years, only to discover that their divergent careers and domestic tastes are pulling them slowly, quietly apart. A stab at marriage counseling reveals a pair who talk around each other more than they actually communicate. And later, Jane confesses to their counselor that she keeps little secrets. But what married couple doesn't? The difference here is that the wealthy Mr. & Mrs. Smith — he a construction contractor, she an information-technology expert — are, in fact, professional assassins, working for competing private agencies. The fact that they first met during an insurrection in Colombia might have been a tip-off. But instead, the two have adapted their private lives to accommodate elaborate ruses, allowing them to be away from home from days at a time. It's only when John and Jane are assigned the same target by their superiors that they discover each other's true selves. Even worse, they're given 48 hours to kill the other, or suffer the consequences. But when the two realize that a more elaborate conspiracy is afoot, it's clear that the only chance they have to stay alive is to stick together.

*          *          *

Mr. & Mrs. Smith is a one-joke movie, and it works. Doug Liman's hyperkinetic action flick (with a script by Simon Kinberg) has one subject at its core — the passive-aggressive competitions and recriminations that continually erupt between married couples who believe that their union has been shaken. Bullets pierce the air among thunderous explosions, and the Smith home is riddled with sexy, high-tech weapons caches, but even a bad movie can manage to serve up a bit of routine eye-candy. Thanks to its clever interplay between the domestic and the fantastic, Smith manages to be both a summer spectacle and a throwback to such Old Hollywood gems as His Girl Friday and Adam's Rib, where warring spouses prioritize career goals — and a certain professional idealism — over the necessary compromises of matrimonial bliss. It's a theme that stretches back to the end of the Second World War, when American women began entering the workplace en masse, creating a domestic friction that remains pervasive to this day. And while Angelina Jolie isn't quite Rosalind Russell or Katherine Hepburn, Liman's movie is more interested in satire than straight comedy, transforming the conventional movie workplace (a newsroom or courtroom) into something very much larger than life — even the lives of contract killers. And yet, despite the sound and fury that envelops the proceedings, the institution of marriage itself is what Smith is about — including the inevitable grudge match between man and wife when they return to their palatial suburban home and utterly wreck it mano a mano, shattering the foremost physical manifestation of American success. Kinberg's script does flaunt a screenwriting guideline by offering a story in two distinct halves, but the second act capably reinforces the institution that the preceding events so gleefully eviscerated. John and Jane never stop calling each other "honey" and "sweetheart" while dishing their personal histories and bickering in throwaway asides. And with their reunion, we're reminded that a marriage is made of more than openness or honesty. White lies may happen sometimes — but you can't get anywhere without teamwork.

Fox's two-disc "Unrated" edition of Mr. and Mrs. Smith extends the film's running-time by four minutes over its two-hour theatrical version. However, while this DVD set may be considered an alternate edition, Fox's does a bit of a disservice by failing to provide consumers with a definitive purchase. For starters, while there are a few new moments to be seen here, at least two short scenes have been deleted from the theatrical version. Also missing are the original trio of commentary tracks (one with director Doug Liman and scenarist Simon Kinberg, a second with producers Akiva Goldsman and Lucas Foster, and a third with editor Michael Tronick, production designer Jeff Mann, and visual effects supervisor Kevin Elam) — Liman offers a new solo track on Disc One, wherein he says the disc is billed as a "Director's Cut" (er, it's not, but that does explain the new edit). Disc Two includes "Confidential Files," with 11 deleted scenes, an alternate ending, a screenplay excerpt for a second alternate ending, and a gag reel, all with a "play all" option. Also on hand is "Domestic Violence: Shooting Mr. and Mrs. Smith" (32 min.) and "Doug's Film School" with seven separate sequences broken into introductions, animatics, and screenplay excerpts. Three stills galleries round out the features, while missing from the first release are the "making a scene" featurette and two theatrical trailers, making this two-disc set a supplemental purchase rather than a true upgrade. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.
—JJB



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