Mr. & Mrs. Smith works on almost every level and against all odds. Its premise is gimmicky: Two married assassins who don’t know each other’s occupation discover that their latest assignment-to-kill is . . . each other. But this plot hook proves sharp and often delightfully, sometimes brutally, funny. And the film’s pre-release publicity—stars Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, each fresh out of previous relationships, were said to be snogging—not only doesn’t interfere with the pleasure, it actually enhances it: There’s such piquant chemistry between these two, I watched in a happily muddled state, mixing up everything I think I know about the actors’ private lives with the wittily exciting action-lives they’re leading onscreen. The result, thanks to the stars’ nonstop slyness and director Doug Liman’s signature stylistic paradox—breezy breathlessness—is a cool summer thriller whose laughs don’t slow down the suspense. It’s the only movie you’ll see in which the cozy exchange “I missed you,” “I missed you, too,” becomes a pun about shooting each other.
As John Smith, Pitt uses the cover story that he works “in construction” with his buddy-in-intrigue Eddie (a yammeringly hilarious Vince Vaughn). Jolie’s Jane Smith is ostensibly a happy suburban housewife who takes pride in her new choice of drapes. Their true identities emerge when they accept assignments from their separate employers (some silliness about rescuing the film’s human red herring, a kidnapped kid played by The O.C.’s drily sarcastic Adam Brody).
Liman, who proved he could do modern screwball comedy directing 1996’s Swingers and steel-nerved action sequences with 2002’s The Bourne Identity, makes the melding of these genres look effortless, a significant achievement. Pitt and Jolie complement each other superbly: He’s loose-limbed yet muscular, always ready with a wisecrack (this is, among other things, what the hepcat comedy Ocean’s Twelve wasn’t); she’s the only actress around right now who can throw knives and leap off tall buildings with convincing flair. (Memo to the 007 producers: Ever think about a Jane Bond franchise?)
The movie has the clever nerve to play into our tabloid knowledge of the supposed Pitt-Jolie hookup by presenting it as a dangerous liaison: a terrific sequence in which they go from beating each other up to turning each other on, all to the perfectly chosen, soulful lurch of Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band’s 1970 hit “Express Yourself.”
Now go back to my first paragraph, please: I said the movie works on almost every level. But eventually, almost inevitably, it proves too long to sustain its conceit; there are a few too many husband-and-wife-bashing scenes, and when Mr. & Mrs. Smith begins to remind you of the Michael Douglas–Kathleen Turner 1989 clunker The War of the Roses, you sense the new movie is wilting. But before it loses steam, Mr. & Mrs. Smith is the rare movie that both captures its pop-culture moment and transcends it. People will watch it long after the stars have moved on to other on- and offscreen conquests.