Judging by its $50 million-plus opening weekend, “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” wasn’t hurt by speculation about an off-screen romance between stars Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

The movie also wasn’t hurt by a plot that, beyond its initial high concept, is pretty sorry. Pitt and Jolie play suburban married couple John and Jane Smith. The catch? They’re professional hit-people, a fact each hides from the other. He keeps his weaponry beneath the tool shed out back; she keeps hers under a state-of-the-art oven.


That’s interesting enough for a studio’s green light, but Simon Kinberg’s script otherwise has more holes than a bad guy’s chest.


And yet, Pitt and Jolie so fantastically nail their characters that audiences most likely don’t care. The pair looks good together, and their scenes, especially when they just talk, have more sizzle than frying bacon.


Director Doug Liman (“The Bourne Identity”) manages both the comedy and action with a deft hand. His car chases are about as good as anyone else’s, and here he employs a nifty trick involving a minivan with dual slide doors.


“Mr. and Mrs. Smith” fits the high-concept bill perfectly, as there is really nothing else to say about the plot or story beyond that initial hook. What’s worth noting, however, is that the movie actually succeeds in its quieter moments—like the beginning, when we meet the Smiths in marital counseling, or when they struggle to maintain that seemingly mundane suburban experience for the other.


As Jane tells the therapist, “There’s this huge space that keeps filling up with everything we don’t say to each other.” What an apt line, not only for the Smiths, but likely for many married couples. In this way, “Smith” makes its generic comment about marital happiness, trust and spousal secrets.


That’s the good part. The bad part has to do with how it mixes comedy and violence. “Smith” actually never takes itself seriously in this regard—as if it could. To have done so would have been the kiss of death that not even Brangelina could have revived.


But after the Smiths work through the genuinely entertaining chapter of suspecting and confirming the true identity of the other, they undertake the mission of trying to whack the other. This most often includes weaponry, but devolves in one scene to hand-to-hand combat.


I can’t overlook this disturbing part because—despite the filmmakers’ attempt to ease the very personal violence by playing a loose track underneath—it carries certain overtones in an age when spousal abuse is all too common.


A married couple beating each other profusely, then making up passionately, probably deserves a boo-hiss, no matter the genre or way in which it was “meant.”


Despite director Liman’s skill at conducting car chases, “Smith” would have been more intriguing (if less marketable) as a flat-out dramedy. Lose the action and incredibly high body count, and embrace the smaller, hilarious moments. Pitt and Jolie proved themselves capable of doing the latter, and what an enjoyable film that would have been.


As it is, summer audiences get clobbered with noise and violence even though sifting through suburban secrets is infinitely more fun.


Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.


MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of violence, intense action, sexual content and brief strong language. Reviewer’s Note: “Smith” delivers an extraordinarily high body count, Jane poses as a dominatrix in one scene, and then there’s the whole spousal violence thing …

Director: Doug Liman

Writer: Simon Kinberg

Cast: John Smith: Brad Pitt; Jane Smith: Angelina Jolie; Eddie: Vince Vaughn; Benjamin Danz: Adam Brody.


The movie’s official Web site is here.

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