This is, after all, a movie about assassins - currently the hippest criminals since the mafia in the eighties and nineties. They are glamorised not only on the big screen (in movies like Luc Besson's Leon and Nikita, the hilarious action-comedy Grosse Point Blank and the Michael Mann thriller Collateral) but also on the small screen, with the Xbox game franchise Hitman already into its fourth instalment. To be honest, it is quite hard to bring something different to these type of stories - it all tends to boil down to smart suits and silenced handguns, but the better movies have tried their best to be something more (and Léon went on to become one of my top five movies). Now we get Mr and Mrs Smith, a romantic comedy action movie, about assassins.
John and Jane Smith are in therapy. Although they look like a particularly photogenic couple, their home lives are much more revealing - they hardly ever talk, hardly ever have sex and just about the most interesting part of their relationship appears to involve introducing peas into their meals. They both purport to have mundane jobs, fuel for the small-talk that they make with their friends and they desperately need help surviving this stagnant part of their relationship.
You may wonder how this attractive thirtysomething could have made it into such a predicament but all becomes stunningly clear when you realise that they both share the same secret for one another - they are both covert operatives, both high-class top-level assassins. We're not talking some street-punks you might hire in a bar, or leather coat wearing mafia hitmen, these two are the best at their game. Armed to the teeth with the latest military equipment, they swoop into high risk situations, execute their targets with professionalism and glide out using gadgets that would make Bond jealous. Improbably though, they are also both completely oblivious to one another's true identities.
Of course, it is not long before the truth comes out, but unfortunately it is in the middle of an operation - forcing them to be pitted against one another in a deadly fight to the end. But are these two really pawns in a much bigger game? Will they uncover the truth before they tear each other to pieces? And, more importantly, will they be able to save their marriage?
Mr and Mrs Smith is a full-on adrenaline-packed gun-toting action movie, brimming with quick wit and repartee. The action comes hard and fast, with plenty of explosions, lots of kinetic gunplay and even some frantic hand to hand combat. The humour should almost be out of place in a movie like this and it was certainly a gamble mixing the two genres so heavily (one which paid off in Grosse Point Blank, which similarly combined action, comedy and romance into one big melting pot), but thankfully the all-important wit still plays as incidental to the central action/espionage theme. It plays like a bit of a modern-day Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, keeping it all relatively light-hearted for the best part of the movie and then rounding it off with a climactic extended battle which is much more dramatic. The result is actually very entertaining.
The casting is a dream come true (except perhaps for Billy Bob Thornton and Jennifer Aniston) - taking two of the sexiest stars on the planet and pairing them up as the lead protagonists. Brad Pitt has proved he is more than just a pretty face with decent, more hefty roles in movies like Seven and Twelve Monkeys on his résumé, but - to be honest - this is just another one of his standard Pitt performances. What I am talking about is that grinning, wise-cracking, finger-snapping caricature who has graced our screens in everything from Ocean's Eleven to The Mexican. This is not necessarily a bad thing - Pitt is an immensely watchable actor and he brings just the right mix of professionalism and sarcasm to the project.
Angelina Jolie plays opposite him as Mrs Smith and she too has proven herself much better than this kind of movie, having turned in tour-de-force performances in movies like Girl Interrupted and Alexander (yes, despite my disappointment in the movie as a whole, I did think that she was decent as Olympius, Alexander's deviant mother). Unfortunately, her more comedy-orientated efforts have left a lot to be desired (Life or Something Like It was particularly cheesy). Here she seems totally at ease as Mrs Smith, whether dressed up in a dangerously sexy PVC outfit wielding a whip or bickering with her husband over who should drive the family car during a shootout. Not quite as witty as Pitt, she provides an excellent, refined, elegant foil for his more eccentric, energetic character.
The original cast was much different, with Nicole Kidman first signed as Mrs Smith, to play opposite Brad Pitt. When Kidman left, so did Pitt, but then Johnny Depp showed interest in being Mr Smith. However, when Angelina Jolie signed up to be Mrs Smith, Pitt was understandably eager to be on board once more. Would Kidman and Depp have been a better choice? Unlikely - certainly in Kidman's case - although Depp could have certainly added another interesting dimension to his broad repertoire.
Aside from the two leads, we also get a noteworthy supporting performance by Vince Vaughn (who the Director Doug Liman worked with on an earlier movie, the excellent Swingers) who is currently one of the best comedy actors. Sure he's criminally underused here, but he's still a joy to watch in the few scenes he pops up in - most notably the great kitchen sequence where he discusses relationship problems with his best friend, John Smith and the shotgun toting scene where he goes into paranoia mode.
This is, of course, the new - unrated - cut of the movie. I have been anticipating this ever since I listened to the commentary on the original DVD release, which spoke of excised characters, excised sex scenes, more action and even an alternate ending - all begging for a special edition. So, was it worth the wait? Is it worth a double-dip to add to you collection next to the theatrical cut of the movie?
Well, for starters I'm going to discuss the most important addition for fans out there - the famous, more raunchy sex scene. Ok, yes it was hotter and slightly more explicit, but realistically it was nothing that would not make a 15 cut in the UK. Fans of Pitt and Jolie are surely going to prefer having more from the two of them frantically banging their way across the kitchen, but the change is insignificant to the movie as a whole. In the way of other changes (which include most of the deleted footage from the first DVD release) the opening dance sequence is longer, there are a couple of tiny scene extensions between the husband and wife towards the beginning, more from Vince Vaughn and there's a slightly humorous extra bit between Brad Pitt and the therapist. They edit the chronology of the spy subplot, introducing it later than was the case for the theatrical edit and also add some action - both shooting and hand-to-hand combat in the house confrontation and shooting and humour in the climactic closing sequence (there are a couple of whole floors' worth of extra gunplay, including a great little buggy sequence.
Perhaps it is not quite as different from the original cut as fans would have liked (it does not really warrant a double-dip), but it will be of particular interest to those who caught the movie in the cinema, liked it, but have not picked it up on DVD yet. If you did not like the original version then - realistically - you are unlikely to be persuaded by the slight extra action and raunchiness offered by this cut, but, conversely, die-hard fans of the movie will find that the extra stuff justifies a double-dip. All in all, Mr and Mrs Smith: Unrated is a superior version of a very entertaining action-comedy, with two of Hollywood's biggest commodities combining to explosive effect. It comes recommended as a piece of slick, fun, frantic easy viewing.
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