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Movie Review **

First Summer Blockbuster Falls Short of Expectations

By Kapil Amarnath Mr. and Mrs. Smith

Directed by Doug Liman

Written by Simon Kinberg

Starring Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Adam Brody, Vince Vaughn, and Angela Bassett

Rated PG-13

The Smiths appear on the screen, awkwardly sitting in plush leather couches. Why? A marriage counselor asks them pointed questions about their (ahem) sex lives. But really, I see the two hottest stars in Hollywood, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, answering questions about their sex lives. With such a juicy opening, my expectations of Mr. and Mrs. Smith soar.

In the next scene, the film reveals Jolie and Pitt’s first and crucial meeting in the exotic locale of Bogota. Their beautiful heads see one another, and they slide effortlessly into the roles of lovers. This second scene segues into a mixture of a romantic comedy and an action film. Unfortunately, Simon Kinberg’s script dilutes the best elements of both genres, resulting in an underwhelming film.

Five or six years after they first meet, the Smiths, John (Pitt) and Jane (Jolie), are having trouble with their marriage. That’s not surprising, since neither can reveal to the other a huge secret: they’re assassins, and for rival firms at that. During a routine day on the job, John and Jane try to take out the same person (Adam Brody), and in the process, they discover each other’s true vocations. Their disbelief causes the discontentment in their marriage to pour out, and each directs much anger towards the other.

The credits after the film don’t suggest the mediocrity that preceded them. For example, Doug Liman is a proven director, capable of making high-quality, entertaining films such as Go (1999) and Bourne Identity (2002). Liman directs a couple of decent action scenes, goads quality performances, and uses close-ups of our pretty stars to good effect.

Pitt and Jolie? They’re both quite good. We’ve come to expect this out of them — they’re two of the most reliable stars in Hollywood, and they do it again here, creating distinct characters that have a tangible on-screen chemistry. Vince Vaughn and Kelly Washington (who gave a solid supporting performance in Ray (2004)) appear in small supporting roles as friends of the couple. There’s also a small part for The O.C. star Brody. He does his schtick, promising Liman (an executive producer of the show) some product placement.

The final element is the screenplay written by the aforementioned Kinberg, whose only writing credit before Smith was for xXx: State of the Union (2005). Kinberg tries to combine two genres, as Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright successfully did in their “rom-zom,” Shaun of the Dead (2004). In the film, a zombie attack occurs at a key moment in the main character’s life — when he has to win his girlfriend over — and the two genres seem essential to the film’s arc. In Smith, the action occurs because of the Smiths’ jobs (which aren’t believable), and the combination of genres is forced and lacks subtlety. As a result, the plot is contrived, and the picture suffers.

Despite its deficiencies, Smith is moderately entertaining because of Pitt and Jolie. Still, the film’s quality doesn’t match the pre-release press frenzy, which included buzz about an erotic scene between the two stars that was deleted from the final cut. I would suggest waiting for the DVD to see it and the movie.