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Mr. and Mrs. Smith
Reviewed by Carla Freccero
Review Date: 6/28/05

Mr. and Mrs. Smith is one of the movies that inaugurates the summer action flicks, movies that unfortunately are thin on plot, character development and psychological interest, and thick with long long long action scenes of things blowing up and cars getting destroyed. It's like the movie folks think we are all the kind of (I daresay imaginary) teenage boys out of school for the summer who want to race, fight and destroy till it's time for school in the fall again.

This one certainly had potential. And don't get me wrong: general action shot boredom aside, I more or less enjoyed it. Directed by Doug Liman, and featuring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie as John and Jane Smith, the movie begins with a clever premise: being married is sort of like each person in the couple being an assassin and choosing not to reveal it to his or her spouse until, of course, each is assigned the other as target. One way to think about this movie-and like it-is to see it as built on a series of verbal expressions about marriage and literalizing them, so, for example, you have the expression "home-wrecking" (they wreck their house, literally) and "blowing up the marriage" (they do, again, literally, as in with bombs). There's a scene where they hide out in a home decorating store and it gets blown apart, so that the wrecking of their kitchen and their house is mirrored on a grander commodified scale. The two of them are fun to watch: they're both beautiful, funny, excellent actors. Brad seems really mature these days and he reminded me of a young Paul Newman in a more comic vein. Angelina does much more delicate this time than usual, though in the fight scenes she kicks butt as always.

Each of them works for a company that assigns them to kill individuals. John's company is, as far as we can tell, all male, and he's not the head of it. His best friend side-kick is Eddie (Vince Vaughn) and a male chauvinist pig. Jane's company-in which she seems to be second in command-is, instead, staffed by women. The allegory's set up in broad strokes. What we learn ideologically from this movie is that popular culture has finally conceded the equality of men and women on the terrain of-dare I say it?-warfare. Though there's a lot of general bad-mouthing about women (from the side kick), it's clear that neither sex is any righter or wronger than the other, neither is weaker or stronger, neither is better or worse. If I'm not mistaken, this film doesn't even use-or maybe only uses once, and in the mouth of a man--the ubiquitous b-word normally reserved for moments of revenge in any movie vaguely smacking of feminist elements. There's even a scene where John Smith pretends to be the worst kind of jerky guy, just as Jane Smith pretends to be the worst kind of deceitful woman, so for each of the usual gender stereotype expectations, there's an ironic moment. Evetually the couple gets assigned to hit each other (hitting, hitting on?) and, once they figure it out, they become both together the target of both companies.

So far so good-a nice and entertaining satire of American marriage (viewers will notice that there are no children involved here). The suburban neighborhood in which they live is mercilessly lampooned, there's a parody of couples' therapy, and the two of them eventually simulate the bored indifference attributed to most married couples after a time. It also pokes fun at the possibility of the husband having an affair (he wipes blood, not lipstick, discreetly off his collar) and the wife anxiously pondering how to repair the marriage, serving what we think are home-cooked dinners at seven and trying to win him back. However, by the end of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, we're not quite sure anymore what to think. It turns out that fighting really is good for your sex life, especially when it's just the two of you against the rest of the world. So they really do save their marriage, and they do it by engaging in high-tech military industrial warfare and reporting happily back to the couples therapist to announce the cure. Sound like an American message?

Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang, this is Carla Freccero.