The new Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie movie, “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” is not a remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1941 comedy of the same name. But it does have much in common with a couple of 1980s black comedies: “Prizzi’s Honor” (a professional hitman marries another assassin) and “War of the Roses” (a suburban divorce escalates into brutal battle).
In some ways, it feels like a remake, and not a terribly resourceful one. If you’ve seen the trailers or commercials featuring Pitt and Jolie, you’ve almost seen the film.
True, the 110-minute movie does feature more car chases, more knife fights, more elevator crashes and more explosions, and the trailers leave out much of the homicidal repartee between Pitt and Jolie. But you get the idea.
This couple, who have been married for five or six years (he says five, she says six) and are apparently tired of sleeping together, are suddenly committed to killing each other. Aside from a mild plot twist that comes midway through the movie, that’s all there is to the storyline in Simon Kinberg’s script.
Whereas “Prizzi’s Honor” filled up its two hours with a memorably loopy collection of supporting characters (Anjelica Huston even won an Oscar), and “War of the Roses” depended on more than silencers and assault weapons to make its point, “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” is little more than a series of lethal confrontations between Pitt and Jolie.
Some of this can be amusing, especially a morbidly entertaining dinner scene in which Pitt’s John Smith suspects that Jolie’s Jane Smith is trying to poison him. The actors are at their best here, picking up signals that may or may not be correct, acting on suspicion and distrust, putting self-preservation above everything. But where can they go from there?
As a script writer, Kinberg couldn’t be busier these days. He wrote last month’s surprise flop, “XXX: State of the Union,” as well as “The Fantastic Four,” which opens in July. But without a story of any consequence or anyone else to play against, Pitt and Jolie are frequently left high and dry, scrambling to find substance in a void.
John and Jane quickly become cat-and-mouse cartoon figures, working their way through a series of Saturday-matinee cliffhangers (how many times can they be stabbed and shot at?), and there’s not much the actors can do to yank them out of their predicament. Vince Vaughn has the closest thing to a supporting role, and he does have some wry moments as John’s cynical pal, who lives with his mother because she’s the only female he trusts. Too bad his character is forgotten for long stretches.
The director, Doug Liman, who made such smart and inventive thrillers as “Go” and “The Bourne Identity,” works hard to give the movie a slick, stainless-steel sheen. He has fun showing how John and Jane met, and he makes the most of the recurring episodes in which John and Jane try to solve their problems via a marriage counselor. But the strain shows.