Film/TV » Film Features

Take That

There's chemistry in Mr. and Mrs. Smith.



I've spent too much time in line at the grocery store lately and have not been able to escape the latest alleged celebrity romances. They run from the wholesome (Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner) to the bizarre (Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes) to the hotly intriguing (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie). Ben and Jen seem to have something real going on, whereas there has been much publicity surrounding the latter couples regarding their legitimacy. Are Tom and Katie posing as lovebirds just to promote their upcoming movies (War of the Worlds and Batman Returns, respectively)? Has the media created the "Brangelina" romance out of nothing? Consider the two couples' contrasting methods of dealing with the attention: Cruise jumps up and down on Oprah's couch while proclaiming his schoolboy passions, while Pitt steers clear of the fracas. When all is said and done, I expect that Brad and Angelina will turn out to be quite real, while Tom and Katie will conveniently break up once their movies open and Katie's celebrity is properly expanded. But the real question is: What does this do to their movies? Mr. and Mrs. Smith opened very well at the box office. As for the other films, time will tell.

What is certain after a viewing of Mr. and Mrs. Smith is that, off-sceen or on, Brad and Angelina have considerable chemistry. In fact, if there are two people on earth who should be having sex, shouldn't it be Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie? They are almost mythologically beautiful; their love would transcend time and space all the way to Olympus, where it would burn forever. It would ... well, never mind. I digress. Anyway, my point is that real or no, concocted or conceived, "Brangelina" works.

Our tale begins in a marriage counselor's office. The eponymous couple are having some marital difficulties. The spark is gone. Five (or six) years after they married, John and Jane Smith just don't have it anymore. Maybe it's the sex. Maybe it's communication. And maybe it's their secret double lives. They are both assassins without the other knowing it. Five or six years of lies and "weekend business trips" and hidden weapons and such have eroded their interest in each other. They're in a rut.

Begin end of rut: Both Mr. and Mrs. Smith are instructed by their respective agencies to take out the same target. When they foil each other's hit and figure out who ruined their mark, they figure out (incorrectly) that their marriage must have been a scam to the other. Begin fireworks. Or, rather, gunshots. Both accomplished mercenaries, they are adept at a number of fighting techniques and spare none on each other, from driving each other off the road to gunplay to crashing through glass to good, old-fashioned drop kicks. It's a shame their counselor couldn't be on hand with those foamy wiffle bats for them to use instead, but then where's the fun in that? Anyway, it's not long before the weapons are down because, you know, with all those bullets and knives and explosives, it's hard not getting turned on. Their house destroyed and their covers blown, there's nothing left to do but "it." The sparks are back, baby! But not so fast. Neither of the Smiths' agencies is pleased that their star agents are married to competing vigilantes, and eventually these expert assassins become targets of their opposing employers. Can love last with a bounty on your head? Will the Smiths live to love another day?

Some critics are dismissing this film as flimsy, popcorn pap. And maybe it would be with lesser players or a less apt director. Doug Liman harnesses his stars' energy like Edison with electricity. The sexual tension is matched only by the wit and specificity of the beautifully choreographed domestic violence (which would be horrifying in a battered-wife Lifetime movie, but is hilarious here). Pitt is able to burnish his trademark casual, sexy wit while Jolie smolders with her sexxxxxxy knowing smiles - each mannerism and glance and touch a hot complement to the other. And all of this takes place as if the car chases and explosions and skyscraper falls weren't even taking place around them.

Flimsy, maybe. But you'll never notice how thin the material is because it's such enormous fun. In fact, it might even put a little fire back in your marriage. Now, if only Tom and Katie would start beating the crap out of each other. - Bo List

Dreams are at the center of Robert Rodriguez's new film, The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl. The protagonist, a shy young boy named Max (Cayden Boyd), keeps a journal of his dreams, which star Shark Boy (Taylor Lautner) and Lava Girl (Taylor Dooley). But Max has trouble keeping his fantasies separate from reality and becomes a target for bullies at school. There's trouble at home as well. Max's father is a bit of a dreamer himself, and Max's mother wants her son to shape up. Max is ready to give up dreaming when the two superkids, Shark Boy and Lava Girl, appear and take him to Planet Drool.

In true Freudian form, the problems from Max's real life have taken on a life of their own in his dream world. The bully from his class becomes the archvillain Minus, spreading darkness across Planet Drool. Max's teacher, Mr. Electricidad, becomes the vile henchman Mr. Electric, and Max's crush becomes the Ice Princess, who helps him save the day. Max's adventures eventually explode into the real world, and his dreams teach everyone to follow their own.

The film - its characters were created by Rodriguez's 7-year-old son Racer - is an adamant defense of dreams against all odds. The film is a bit didactic in this regard, and it suffers the pros and cons of its dreamlike state and child author. Watching the film is like listening to someone else talk about their dreams, disjointed and much more vivid to the teller than to the audience. On the other hand, the use of such a simple script and dream logic might make the serious childhood issues like bullying, divorce, and loneliness all the more potent for the kids watching.

Where the film suffers is in its use of 3-D technology. In Spy Kids, a trilogy of kids' action films Rodriguez directed, he handled the 3-D scenes well. In this film, they seem forced and gimmicky at best. Not only is the technology unimpressive, large portions of the film force the viewer to use their 3-D glasses even when nothing of extra-dimensional interest is occurring.

Kids may enjoy the plot, but The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl will become grating pretty quickly to any adult. Rodriguez would be better served writing his own films and encouraging his son to follow his dreams off-screen for a little while longer. n - Ben Popper

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