It's official: Doug Liman is some sort of mad genius. After starting his career with the smoothly enjoyable indie flicks Swingers and Go, the director moved on to helm the "wow, was that better than I expected!" spy thriller The Bourne Identity. But the guy (reportedly) works in very strange and offbeat ways, which is why he wasn't invited back to direct the sequel. And that's just fine, partially because another director (Paul Greengrass) did a slam-bang job on The Bourne Supremacy -- but mainly because it gave Mr. Liman the opportunity to do Mr. & Mrs. Smith, which is one of the slyest, slickest, and funniest action flicks I've seen a quite some time.
Those who find themselves wondering precisely what "movie star mystique" is need look no further than Mr. & Mrs. Smith. The high-end action-comedy stars Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie -- and you don't get much more "movie star" than that. They're charming, they're gorgeous, they have that unclassifiable something that makes you want to watch their adventures ... and (fortunately) they're both darn fine actors. And when you're dealing with such a potentially outlandish concept like the one offered in Mr. & Mrs. Smith, you really do need some solid actors to pull the thing off (or you end up with something like Into the Blue.)
Based on a failed TV series of the same name, Mr. & Mrs. Smith is about a pair of married assassins, neither of whom know anything about their spouse's true identity. But when one particularly important assignment goes awry, John and Jane discover each other's dirty secrets -- and promptly head out to assassinate one another.
Yes, it's true "high concept" all that way, and movies like this can go in one of two directions: classy, witty, and quick -- or lazy, obvious, and pedestrian. Mr. & Mrs. Smith is most definitely an example of the former, thanks mainly to the two leads' cracklin' chemistry and Mr. Liman's vibrant approach to the flick's manic action sequences. (And credit where it's due: xXx: State of the Union screenwriter Simon Kinberg is now officially out of the doghouse for his work here.)
With most of what passes for "popcorn action flicks" these days, you're asked to sit and twiddle your thumbs in between the gunfights and explosions, but Mr. & Mrs. Smith is as clever a comedy as it is an kinetic festival of mayhem. While Mr. & Mrs. Smith might be a little skimpy on the "plot stuff," the flick more than makes up for it with a resoundingly effective sense of humor. Pitt and Jolie are as loose and likable as they've ever been, and professional goofball Vince Vaughn was brought in to deliver an extended cameo that ends up very welcome and rather consistently hilarious.
But a bunch of witty repartee between two well-matched superstars won't amount to a hill of beans if their action movie doesn't curl your toes a few times -- and Mr. & Mrs. Smith does a fine job of keeping the bullets flying, the cars chasing, and the random large objects exploding. (The last hour of this movie is almost exhausting!) And because the film actually allows you to like these ruthless spouse-assassins, the mega-flashy action sequences possess an extra layer of character-driven intensity.
Plus... Ms. Jolie has simply never looked sexier on film. On "mute" this flick would still earn 3 stars out of 5.
Video: It's a sterling crystal anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) transfer. If you can find any real fault with this transfer, you just might be looking a bit too hard.
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS. Either track will give your speakers a good healthy workout, what with the frequent explosions and funky musical score. Also included are 2.0 tracks in French and Spanish, as well as optional subtitles in English and Spanish.
Extras: Fans of the chat-tracks will appreciate the trio of audio commentaries offered here, one with director Doug Liman & screenwriter Simon Kinberg, one with producers Akiva Goldsman & Lucas Foster, and one with editor Michael Tronick, production designer Jeff Mann, and FX supervisor Kevin Elam. The first commentary is clearly the most forthcoming and insightful, but hardcore Smith fans will most likely enjoy the other (somewhat drier) chat-fests.
Next up is a "Fox Movie Channel" Making a Scene Featurette which runs 8 minutes and breaks down one specific action scene ... in rather shallow detail. Also offered are three (rather enjoyable) deleted scenes, as well as the Smith teaser, trailer, and soundtrack spot. And a Family Guy trailer, just for fun.
Lastly, Inside Look gives you a peek at the upcoming Michael Douglas/Kiefer Sutherland thriller The Sentinel.
It's pretty amazing what a few strong actors and a more-than-half-decent screenplay can do for an action flick.
(Portions of this review have been reprinted from my original theatrical review at HBS.com.)