Pitt, Jolie make killer couple in "Mr. & Mrs. Smith"

After watching "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," naive moviegoers might be forgiven for thinking that Angelina Jolie was actually a brilliantly conceived CGI effect. She looks far too exquisite to be real (those lips! those eyes! that hair! that flare of the nostril!), and when these looks are combined with an almost sub-Arctic coolness and an ability to balance on the back of an armchair in stiletto heels, the result is — well, I don't quite know what it is, but it's impressive.

At one point in the film, Jolie exits a sky-high hotel room by rappelling, at laser speed, down the side of the building. She lands smoothly, takes a dainty breath, and says, "Taxi?"

You know the stunt's done with smoke and mirrors, but Jolie's great gift is that you absolutely believe that she could do it, and probably complete some United Nations volunteer work on the way down. But her sexy superwoman persona is too big for most movies, which tend to look silly and a little frightened in her wake.

And such, alas, is the case with "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," a muddled mess which can now be added to the long list of Movies That Don't Know What To Do With Angelina Jolie. (On that list: the "Lara Croft" movies, "Taking Lives," "Original Sin," "Life or Something Like It," just for starters. She has really only recently registered in "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow," as a dominatrix-like pilot with an eyepatch, barking out commands and watching underlings jump.)

In Doug Liman's film, Jolie and Brad Pitt play a wife and husband who each have a secret identity as a professional assassin. They live in an elegant suburban home (his guns are hidden in the garage; her knives are cached in the oven) where she wears aprons and fusses over new curtains; he dons an argyle cardigan and asks her about her day. (He thinks she runs a tech support company; she thinks he's a contractor.) In the early scenes, Liman understands the goofiness of these two larger-than-life creatures talking about pot roast and draperies, and the movie has an appealing, self-deprecating humor.

But when John and Jane each receive the assignment to bump off the other, "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" veers off course, never to return. There are only so many ways to kill a person, or to narrowly fail to kill a person, and the movie dutifully goes through the checklist, but it all feels random and hyped-up. We never really get to know these people — both Jolie and Pitt play their characters so coolly, and have so little in Simon Kinberg's screenplay to work with, we have no idea what they're really like, other than that they both look hot and are very good at raising their eyebrows. So, as they wreak havoc on their pretty home and on each other, and then switch instantly from violence to lovemaking (bad idea, as there's broken glass all over the floor), we watch them with the same cool detachment. Some of the stunts are impressive, but so what?

Essentially, "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" exists for the purpose of showing off the gorgeous faces and physiques of its two stars, and for giving its audience the dubious pleasure of watching them beat each other up. There's the grain of a good idea here, which has been explored in other, better movies like "Prizzi's Honor," but Liman and Kinberg seem less interested in story and character than in quick cuts, stunts and double entendres.

Pitt, who breezes through the movie with a slightly amused expression, and Jolie make a zingy team, and Vince Vaughn is funny as Pitt's sidekick ("They all try to kill you," he says, of women in general). Pity they couldn't have had better material. Taxi?

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Movie review 2 stars

Showtimes and trailer

"Mr. & Mrs. Smith," with Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Vince Vaughn, Kerry Washington, Adam Brody. Directed by Doug Liman, from a screenplay by Simon Kinberg. 130 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, intense action, sexual content and brief strong language. Several theaters.