The dark flick has a delicious dinner-table tension.
By ROGER MOORE
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
Somebody understands divorce.
Someone, somewhere in the writing, directing and acting of "Mr. & amp; Mrs. Smith" gets the whole failure-to-communicate thing, the bridges that shouldn't be crossed, the shots from a sniper rifle ... or pistol with a silencer on it, that loving couples should never take.
This wickedly dark comedy pairing Angelina Jolie and the soon-to-be-divorced Brad Pitt is a "Prizzi's Honor" spin on the couple that slays together, stays together. With the Smiths, when the marriage contract ends, the real contract begins.
We meet them in couples counseling. Cute.
An unseen therapist tries to figure out what their problem is.
Let's start with lying. They met on assignment in Colombia. Their first words to one another were lies. And they've been lying to each other about what they do ever since.
He's in "construction." It takes him out of town, because, as his sidekick (Vince Vaughn) tells him, "People need killing."
She runs an informational technology company on Wall Street, a sleek assassination firm filled to the rafters with stunning women.
Truth is, both are government killers, working for different and sometimes competing agencies. And when the truth hits the fan, well, let's hope nobody's armed.
It's so dark that only the considerable charm and playfulness of the two sexiest stars in show business could make "Mr. & amp; Mrs. Smith" light. Who knew Jolie would make a good straight man? Pitt scores the laughs, because, well, he's not the hit man she is. And he's the last to figure that out.
Vaughn plays a variation on the motor-mouthed goof who made him famous (in "Swingers"), a guy who's happy he's getting his buddy back, and sure that when it comes down to who takes whom out, his guy will win. He's just worried Mr. Smith will grow a heart.
Director Doug Liman, of "Swingers" and "The Bourne Identity," wears both his comic and spy thriller hats here. A couple of cool hits or near-hits, a killer car chase and a hilarious running gunbattle punctuate the cat-and-mouse games our lovers play.
Shockingly enough, they still have time to give the characters an emotional center. They're shooting, but they're not aiming that carefully. They're planting bombs. But they don't really mean it.
Punches -- just love taps, really.
And grenades? Only when you care enough to send the very best.
Jolie dons dominatrix gear, no surprise there. But she can be sweet, too, when she's fretting over the marriage that isn't working, the husband she must now shoot because he knows her secret.
Is that you, Brad?
Pitt looks positively goofy in a cardigan in his husband-at-home mode. But he, too, brings a depth to the character and the relationship. Viewers can be permitted to speculate on the alleged on-set romance and its reasons in one adorably jarring moment when she is handed a baby at a party, and he reacts to it.
It's not "Prizzi's Honor" or even "War of the Roses." It's not perfect. It's like a marriage. So much is warily left unsaid. There's a delicious dinner-table tension.
And you, like our troubled couple, are left to wonder -- will love conquer all, or will the lawyers get involved?
But really, who needs lawyers when you're rifle range-rated as "expert"?