And if that's your snack, "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" fills the bowl.
I hadn't seen this one in theaters, and didn't know what to expect because critics have been either particularly brutal in their denouncing it as the worst sort of pap or they've given it high marks for entertainment value. All agree that it's not a great film, or even a really really good one by film studies standards. But as popcorn movies go? As high-concept Hollywood blockbusters go? As today's star vehicles go? I'd have to agree with those who thought it pretty darned entertaining, since it satisfies all the requirements of a good popcorn movie.
1) The people on the screen have to be good to look at. Check. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, who became an item as a result of the film, were named two of the planet's most beautiful people by (who else?) People magazine. They're easy on the eyes and fun to watch, especially when they engage in a marital tangle/tango that involves automatic weapons and martial arts maneuvers--even in the bedroom.
2) There has to be plenty of action. Again, check. Whether it's a big stunt, like Jolie lowering herself secret-agent style from a high-rise building using a sophisticated version of those retractable doggie leashes, or the shoot-'em-up sequences, or the explosions, there's enough action to more than balance the romantic stuff, and all of it is filmed with multiple angles and decent special effects.
3) The pacing has to be crisp. And except for a more leisurely first act, it is. Though the film runs a full two hours, it plays like a rock concert, with mostly rockin' songs and a few quiet ones that allow the performers to catch their breath before launching into another frenetic sequence. Director Doug Liman ("The Bourne Identity") keeps this moving nicely,
4) If there's a male and female, there has to be sparks. Ummm, helloo--Brangelina? Opposites attract, and in this case you get a professional killer (Pitt) who's this-side-of-Margaritaville casual, and who works for a low-tech, small, informal organization. Opposite him is another professional killer (Jolie) who's a little more sophisticated, and whose organization makes Mr. Smith's look like a milk-money protection racket. But have them paid to whack the same person in Bogata, Columbia, and have them pair up in order to avoid suspicion when they're told that soldiers are investigating all foreigners traveling alone, and you get the beginning of a a beautiful-people relationship and a romantic roller-coaster ride. All couples have at least one secret, but these two? How two killers are able to keep their professional identities from the other is beyond my comprehension. Aren't they supposed to have skills, like a highly developed intuition?
But hey, the fifth requirement isn't total logic for a popcorn movie--it's that the plot be just logical enough that audiences can appreciate requirements one through four. And again, I think that's the case here. Simon Kinberg's script isn't a font of clever dialogue, but it's better than he produced for "xXx: State of the Union." Five or six years later (as we learn at the outset, watching the couple in marriage counseling) Mr. & Mrs. Smith have drifted apart, quickly going from almost violently ripping each other's clothes off to not even remembering what sex feels like. They've been leading secret lives, and thinking the other one pretty boring by comparison. The turning point (and the twist) comes when they're given another coincidental assignment: to a guy named Benjamin Danz (Adam Brody). Then, ironically, they get turned on to each other again as the sparks (and the bullets) fly once more. Who whacks whom? How far do they take their competition? Do they find a way out? As John J. Puccio pointed out in his DVD review, you get a light romantic comedy, a heavy-handed screwball comedy, and an action film--three for the price of one. But I wasn't bothered by the way these genres fit into the same box, as John was. I thought that the comedy added to the stylishness.
Although you'll get no spoilers from me, I will say this: You'd better be in full popcorn mode when the film's climax plays out, or you might just want to pick up an automatic weapon and take out the whole bunch of them. For me, though, the relationships and the characters are enough to make this action film slash romantic comedy work. And a bonus is the performance of Vince Vaughn as Mr. Smith's boss, who manages to make the most of a small part. Kerry Washington is the other foil character, but as Mrs. Smith's confidante she just isn't able to milk it for nearly the laughs or the impact.
One other thing is worth mentioning, and that's the decision to frame this little suburban secret-lives tale with a marriage-counseling sequence. Watching it, you can't help but think of "When Harry Met Sally," and it nicely suggests the ironic, extreme marital problems romantic comedy that will follow--along with a lot of blasts and bullets.
Compared to another action film like "Transporter 2," the 1080p picture doesn't look nearly as plasticine high-gloss, and it doesn't have nearly the 3-dimensionality. It's a slightly softer-looking transfer, though still plenty detailed and still looks better than a standard DVD by far. I'd rate it an 8 because the edge detail is strong, particularly in the action and fireball sequences, and the color saturation is quite good. But the black levels seem just a little soft to my eyes, and I think that might be responsible for the overall slightly softer look that this has. If that sounds like nit-picking, to put it another way, "Transporter 2" knocked my socks off, and I thought, THIS is what I need to pop in when I want to show off the HD for friends. But "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," though it looks very good in Hi-Def, is typically HD-strong, not wondrously, breathtakingly HD-demo. "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" was transferred to a 50GB dual-layered disc at 24MBPS using AVC. It's presented in 2.35:1 widescreen.
The audio is stronger, with the English DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio all it needs to be to drive home those car-chase cacophonies and bullet-zinging sequences. It's a clear-as-a-bell soundtrack that nicely balances the dialogue and special effects so you don't have to keep reaching for the remote to turn the volume up or down. Additional options are Spanish or French Dolby Digital 5.1, with subtitles in English (CC), Spanish, Cantonese, or Korean.
Count me among those who'd rather have a great director interview or making-of feature any day, rather than a full-length commentary that has me watch every frame of the film all over again just to hear what people have to say. And to my horror, "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" offers THREE commentary tracks. All of them are quite average, with the best one actually featuring film editor Michael Tronick, production designer Jeff Mann and visual effects supervisor Kevin Elam. These guys get into the nitty gritty of how they made the film look the way it does, and let's face it--with a movie like this, visual style counts for a lot.
By comparison, the director's commentary, with Liman joined by screenwriter Simon Kinberg, just doesn't have the same level of enthusiasm. But who can compete with tech guys when it comes to talking about their work? A third commentary track lies in between the two in terms of interest, though it always blurs the line between directing and producing to hear producers talk like directors, as Lucas Foster and Akiva Goldsman do.
The only other bonus features are a Fox Movie Channel Presents making-of featurette, which of course was designed to fill theater seats, and theatrical trailers, with DBOX compatibility.
When a film sets out to be funny, slick, action-packed, and stylish, and it is, you have to give it some credit. This one isn't meant to be a deep movie or a message film, just a pleasant diversion. And despite a slow-moving first act, "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" is just that.