--Chemistry of stars makes up for autopilot explosions--

By Paul Clinton
For CNN.com
Friday, June 10, 2005 Posted: 1947 GMT (0347 HKT)

*(CNN) -- Start with a nice little battle-of-the-sexes romantic comedy,

the kind favored by the likes of Frank Capra and Howard Hawks.

Then dump in a whole lot of 21st-century action and ear-splitting

gunplay, in the vein of Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay.*

You now have the basic formula for "Mr. & Mrs. Smith."

Fortunately, though the Bruckheimer-Bay-style explosions threaten to

overwhelm the snappy jibes of the romantic comedy, there's enough of

the latter to keep the former at bay -- with thanks to stars Brad Pitt

and Angelina Jolie, whose chemistry keeps the movie afloat when the

umpteenth loud noise threatens to sink it.

This film's plot is high concept, as they say in the biz. John Smith

(Pitt) and Jane Smith (Jolie), unbeknownst to each other, are trained

assassins working for competing organizations. They first meet while

on separate assignments during a bloody revolution in Bogota, Colombia.

After a number of tequila shots and some steamy moves on the dance

floor, the two fall in love.

There's just one hitch to their getting hitched. Despite exchanging

vows, they still keep their real professions a secret from each other.

(Since they're supposedly flying all over the world killing people for

hire, it's best not to dwell on exactly how they manage this unlikely

feat.) On the surface they both have average -- if high-paying -- jobs

and live in a picture-perfect house in deepest suburbia.

But after six years of marriage, they've settled into a rut. Their

mutual secret has become the elephant in the living room that nobody

wants to talk about.

All that changes when each is given a new assignment. They are ordered

to assassinate one another. Apparently their rival organizations view

their marriage as a conflict of interest. With absolutely no hesitation,

they both accept.

(Apparently a simple divorce is out of the question.)

Now the bullets fly, as does the witty repartee. The tension peaks

in a brilliantly played -- and almost lethal -- dance in a fancy

restaurant about halfway through the film, which makes a nice

counterpoint to the Bogota dance scene earlier in the movie.

When the Smiths fall in love all over again on the way to blowing each

other to pieces, they decide to turn on their respective agencies.

At this point, the movie threatens to blow itself to pieces, with gun

battle after gun battle and a last, over-the-top clash that borders on

the ludicrous. Thankfully, Pitt and Jolie save the day one last time.

*Good performances better than script*

Director Doug Liman is notorious for being indecisive on the set,

requiring take after take of the same scene. It's a habit that results

in his films going over budget -- much to the annoyance of his producers

and studio executives. But as he did with "The Bourne Identity," he once

again manages to deliver the goods.

After Pitt's anemic turn in "Troy" and Jolie's stilted performance

in "Alexander," they're both in need of a career boost. This hybrid

of a romantic comedy and action flick shows off both their comedic

timing and their physical prowess. Both also deliver their lines with

a dry wit that's all too hard to find in today's romantic comedy

genre, and do the film proud.

The always welcome Vince Vaughn provides a hilarious performance

as Eddie, John's hyper fellow assassin who still lives with his

mother because she's the only woman he can trust.

The movie is based on the first draft of a screenplay written

by Simon Kinberg for his master's thesis at the Columbia

University film school. (One wonders what degree "XXX: State of

the Union," his previously produced script, qualified him for.)

Kinberg joined forces with Academy Award-winning screenwriter

Akiva Goldsman ("A Beautiful Mind"), who produced "Smith," to

create a vehicle for two of the world's most beautiful people,

and it's the stars' good looks -- and terrific chemistry --

that make the script work ... when the writing hasn't given way

to exploding cars.

It's too bad that "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" couldn't have spent more

quiet time with its stars. But overall, it's a good ride.

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