The most extravagant scene of the tongue-in-cheek “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” has its title spouses, played with no reserve by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, violently duking it out and destroying just about every inch of their McMansion. They attempt to poison, stab, shoot and just plain beat the hell out of each other, all with a joyous allure. The scene, a turning point in the gleefully over-plotted film that unapologetically consumes a fifth of its running time, is about one high-tech gadget and self-conscious punch line short of total camp.
And if you think about it, “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” in all of its deliriously over-the-top glory, works on much the same level: Its mix of self-referential irony and wall-to-wall CGI action is almost completely zany, but still, it’s all great fun. Even with its technical prowess and the considerable skill of director Doug Liman (“The Bourne Supremacy”), though, the film wouldn’t even be able to approximate its feel-good, escapist charm without Pitt and Jolie in the leads. Forget the gossip rags, the loss of Hollywood’s prize A-list couple and the fact that they showed up to the premiere separately: just sit back and enjoy the show. Pitt and Jolie have an exuberant sexuality between them that not only steals the show but keeps the movie afloat through all of its bouts into nonsensical bombast. They aren’t just the stars of the movie — for all intents and purposes, they are the movie.
The good news, then, is that the film is fully aware of its headliners’ importance and, for the most part, just lets them do their thing. Students of the comedic marriage-on-the-rocks movie will have little trouble recognizing the setup: A bored, humdrum suburban couple, nose deep in five — wait, six — years of marriage, sleepwalks their way through dinnertime interaction and couples’ therapy, where their therapist’s inquiry into the number of times they have sex in a week results in a bemused “I don’t understand the question.”
Ah, yes, but when they discover that they are actually rival high-priced assassins who just got hired to kill each other, their furious standoffs result in, basically, some great sex and the total reinvigoration of their hapless union. Consider: Before they figure each other out, their most involved discussion on a typical evening is over the aesthetic of new curtains. Afterward, they amorally exchange their “numbers,” which, no, is not their sexual histories. They swap the number of people they’ve killed on the job (Jolie’s 312 runs at about five times that of Pitt’s “low 60s,” but then it would, wouldn’t it?).
“Mr. & Mrs. Smith” is above all a crowd-pleaser that’s clever and energetic enough to help audiences overlook its flaws. Like the realization that the action sequences are expensive and busy but mostly empty-headed. Like the fact that the aforementioned domestic scene is lifted from the edgier “War of the Roses,” along with a faux-stripper farce (with a supremely leathered-up Jolie standing in for Jamie Lee Curtis’s cocktail dress-clad housewife) and a cheeky dance scene that distinctly recall “True Lies.” But call it derivative; call it mental masturbation for tabloid mongers — the fact remains that “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” triumphs because of the fervent sexual chemistry between its stars. The movie will doubtlessly inspire other, lesser vehicles featuring sensationalized celebrity couples, but think of it: A movie where Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes try to off each other? Now that would sell.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars