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Photograph by Steven Vaughn

Leave It to Cleaver: Well-armed assassin Angelina Jolie gets a warning shot from Jennifer Aniston in 'Mr. & Mrs. Smith.'

Liman's Lemon

Brad and Angelina shoot blanks in seriously unfunny assassination comedy 'Mr. & Mrs. Smith'

By Richard von Busack

MARRIED ASSASSINS John Smith (Brad Pitt) and Jane Smith (Angelina Jolie) are successful in business. Yet their marriage is in trouble because neither of them has admitted to the other that they kill for a living. Eventually their rival assassination bureaus put contracts out on each of them.

Doug Liman's Mr. & Mrs. Smith is the same movie that you've been watching for 40 years, and it hasn't gotten better. Like inbred aristocracy, the film boasts a pedigree: it is descended from the earsplitting action pictures of the 1980s, like True Lies, with Vince Vaughn here taking the place of the gynophobic Tom Arnold.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith is also related to the lazy, druggy buddy movies of the 1970s—take (please) the climactic homage scene to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Ultimately, this sour, rotted picture's roots go back to the weakest caper movies of the 1960s. Even the more putrid James Bond imitations knew that they owed it to the audience to take them on a little vacation.

Rather than read the gossip about the gilded couple's trek to the beaches at Kenya, I wish the filmmakers had taken the camera there instead. Mr. & Mrs. Smith leaves its shiny-gray New York locations just to go for a short bazooka shoot in the desert. Mostly, the action remains stuck on the freeways in an asphyxiating suburb or in a final shootout in a home-furnishings store.

If there is any reason the script deserved to survive its richly merited years in development hell, it is that Mr. & Mrs. Smith touches on the resentments in a marriage. It notes the sudden flares of wrath, how a couple distracted by work and possessions suddenly realizes that they've lost the ability to communicate. As the movie locates his weapons stash under the garage and her arsenal in the kitchen, you could claim that Liman is satirizing gender roles. Stretching like a Vikram yoga instructor, you could say that Mr. & Mrs. Smith shares the concerns of Bergman or Antonioni, pitching these ideas to a level where a moron can understand them.

But what the movie reveals—in its vicious but unentertaining fight scenes, in its much-anticipated-but-scarcely-there love scene, in its half-written dialogue and in its idiotic happy ending—is the smug selfishness of a pair of people who are delighted to kill, as long as it allows them to consume more of the stainless-steel-plated goods that get blown up again and again.

As for the stars: farewell, Brangelina. Pitt does his time, occasionally breaking out into a little shrug or a dance step that leaves the audience so jazzed, it was as if he had dropped his pants. As they say, killers get dead around the eyes. Jolie, pouting her burst-tomato lips, tries hard; she's visibly rigid with effort. Yes, she's hot in the PVC bondage outfit. That's just one short scene, however, and once again Jolie shows more interest in a rack of knives than she does in her co-stars. And once again it's like watching a Persian pussycat play a panther.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith (PG-13; 120 min.), directed by Doug Liman, written by Simon Kinberg, photographed by Bojan Bazelli and starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, plays valleywide.

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Web extra to the June 8-14, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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