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Mr & Mrs Smith (2005)
Director: Doug Liman

review by Christopher Geary

Essentially a combo rehash of the Kathleen Turner movies, Prizzi's Honour (1985), War Of The Roses (1989), and Undercover Blues (1993), this briskly paced comedy-adventure about a couple of assassins that receive secret orders to kill one another, also delivers a salvo of knowing riffs on the likes of Renny Harlin's The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996), James Cameron's True Lies (1994), and Roger Moore's very own favourite James Bond 007 outing, The Spy Who Loved Me. Screenwriting newcomer Simon Kinberg also cites The Thin Man (1934) as yet another influence on Mr & Mrs Smith, but his populist treatment of this familiar, if nonetheless engaging, subgenre material definitely owes more to Shane Black than Dashiell Hammett.

Continuing his adherence to the conservation of formulaic action thrills begun with The Bourne Identity, director Doug Liman, takes zero risks with this variant scenario on the eternal battle of the sexes. John and Jane Smith (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie) are deceiving each other about their day jobs. Their marriage is a "web of lies" covering up second lives as hitman and femme fatale, respectively. Although the casting is wholly not against type, the stereotypical gender roles are interestingly reversed: she's the coolly efficient death machine who's clocked up a considerably higher number of successful kills than her marginally scatterbrained husband John, while he's the hopeless romantic who fell in love at first sight on meeting Jane during a mission in Bogotá.

When the Smiths both fail to hit the same target, their respective bosses charge John and Jane with the task of killing each other, and the couple's sham marriage and apparently stable domestic situation is subsequently revealed with unsurprising yet entertaining results. Their mutually exclusive patterns of behaviour come to the fore, proving that even after a few years together, John knows actually very little about Jane, and vice versa. What they do know about is finding an opponent's weakness and exploiting that fully. So, during one amusingly tense dinner scene, John tricks Jane into losing her anxiously maintained professional composure (quite literally, showing her hand, on trained reflex alone, when she catches a dropped wine bottle), while, after their first confrontation and hectic chase, Jane ransacks the house and steals John's hidden cache of weapons, knowing this theft will disarm him in more ways than one.

Tactically and emotionally, John remains at a disadvantage throughout his conflict with Jane. Even his Mission: Impossible style attack on her hi-tech office building, where John's tricks with security cameras, time bombs and lifts fails to overcome his wife's defensive contingencies, simply demonstrates how much he underestimates her. Inevitably though, in this movie's romantic fantasy world, the old chestnut of 'love conquers all' is the Smiths' answer to a shared moral dilemma. And, for the action-packed finale, the reconciled couple square off against mercenary squads despatched by their ruthless employers during the shootout in a shopping centre, where John and Jane wind up standing back to back against a storm of bullets. It's quite effective as both action movie cliché and unnervingly absurdist comment on the besieged institution of American marriage.

Liman is working on the pilot for a TV spin-off, which stars Martin Henderson and Jordana Brewster. 20th Century Fox's recent two-disc special edition DVD release has the director's cut, featuring an audio commentary track by Liman, 13 deleted scenes (including the alternate ending), the screenplay's different ending, a 'film school' featurette, photo galleries, plus some behind-the-scenes footage in Domestic Violence: Shooting Mr & Mrs Smith.
Mr and Mrs Smith

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