Wednesday, 2 August 2006

Mr and Mrs Smith (DVD) (2005)

Maybe Doug Liman was doing a parody of John Woo making a romantic comedy, like one of those sketches you see on Saturday Night Life, where Kevin Spacey once did impressions of Walter Mathau, Christopher Walken and Richard Dreyfus auditioning for roles in Star Wars.

Or maybe this movie proves a theory a movie kaki once expounded on, aeons ago. To wit: Any film is a product of the movie industry, and what genre of movies are doable and how well they turn out are determined by the limitations of its A-list actors. And if I may build on my friend’s excellent observation, the current film products of Hollywood are also determined by the limitations of its scriptwriters, aside from the qualities of its A-list stars.

Take for example Mr and Mrs Smith. A couple happily ("numbingly", "soul-destroyingly", in the suburban speak) married to each other for 5 or 6 years turn out to be keeping secrets from each other. He’s an assassin for some agency. She’s an assassin for another agency. And these are rival agencies competing for the same contracts and kills, so you can imagine how fatal this revelation is to their marriage, and what manner of measures the couple will take to clarify the rather awkward position of being betrayed by each other.

Bickering couples being very nasty to each other, to the point of wanting each other dead – and actually trying to kill each other, while continuing their verbal battles. We have seen this done before, most recently with Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in War of the Roses, or Danny DeVito and Bette Midler in Ruthless People. Going even closer to married assassins scenario, we have Jack Nicholson and Kathleen Turner in Prizzi’s Honor. Going much further back, there is a treasure chest of classics from the Golden Age featuring almost all-out gender war between strong male leads and fiercer female leads.

What makes Mr and Mrs Smith a failure is the lack of A-list actors who can pull off these roles with believability. Sure, Brad Pitt is Mr Pretty Boy and occasional action star, but he cannot play an unpleasant man, and is completely unsuitable for black comedy. Sure, Angelina Jolie is Ms Tomb Raider, but her limited acting range is so severely limited, she can’t even do comedy, let alone dark comedy. So ,we are left with a movie where the two leads pout a lot, yet fail to convey any sexual tension, and are utterly unconvincing as people who would want to do each other in.

What could be worse? The screenplay is a clumsy, 3-legged lumbering beast. Never mind that it fails to create truly dark, truly funny, or even humorous dialogue needed for the genre and concept this film requires. Never mind that in place of truly dark and funny dialogue, we are treated to banal repartee that disgraces the name of repartee and only manages to elicit laughs because of its anticlimactic banality. The problem with the screenplay is it cannot decide what to do once the couple (the blandly named John and Jane Smith) find out the secret identity of their spouse. Will it be a dark comedy? Will it be an action movie? Will it be a car chase movie? Will it be a weapons porn movie? Will it be a John Woo movie? The scriptwriter doesn’t know and tries to smash the plot in a new direction every 20 minutes.

Your patience will be stretched as the gear shifts come in fast and furious, yet incoherently. Your credibility will be stretched in the final moments, when Doug Liman and Simon Kinberg just toss out the entire premise and (badly constructed) build-up for a John Woo shootout in a supermarket. So they work in assassination agencies, are have about 50 assassins targeting them at the end, and the Smiths don’t even need to aim to shoot their enemies, they can fire their rifles, two in a hand, and look as if they’re doing some kind of balletic dance?

I guess that’s what happens when the screenplay happens to be the Masters thesis by a recent film graduate. Or maybe that’s what happens when Liman’s screenplay had to go through more than 50 rewrites by studio hacks. Maybe, just maybe, someone at the studio should’ve just taken a look at the script and the stars that were cast, and just said there’s no way we can make this movie a reality. Since that didn’t happen, the resulting movie is a joke.

Rent this if you’re a fan of Brangelina. Rent this if you want to break up with your boyfriend or girlfriend. Otherwise, just hunt down Prizzi’s Honor, War of the Roses, or Ruthless People.

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