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Marital Dis 

Beyond its relentless gunfights and car chases -- so many bullets are fired, it feels like a full-blown war -- the only thing Mr. & Mrs. Smith offers its audience is the attractive onscreen union of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

John and Jane Smith are a married couple of hired assassins who have managed to keep their similar occupations concealed from one another until a double-booked hit pits them against each other. Much destruction of shared personal property occurs before John and Jane team up to battle against their many well-armed attackers. The movie is pornography of violence that plays out like a remotely operated video game spattered with droll asides and sarcastic marital exchanges.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith was written by untalented screenwriter Simon Kinberg (XXX: State of the Union) as a thesis for his master's degree at Columbia University -- and indeed, the script reeks of a nerdy college student using inside humor to impress his friends. Jane's female-run Assassination Corporation is located on the upper floors of the Empire State Building, while John's hit-for-pay offices are stuck in a grungy garage atmosphere. Jane works with a team of bad-ass hotties while John plays second fiddle to mama's boy boss Eddie (Vince Vaughn), who lives in a squalid house with his off-screen mother. Eddie has quick-fire jokes galore, but Jane's comrades-in-execution are all business. This meager background of superficiality is all that supports John and Jane's extended divorce discussion -- one that's facilitated by fury and fire.

For her part, Jane is more cold-blooded than John and makes several very sincere attempts at killing him. John, on the other hand, is more caring and far less willing to see any real harm come to the woman he comes home to every night for dinner at seven. Kinberg bookends the movie with direct-to-camera couple's therapy sessions that play out like high-quality demo reels for Pitt and Jolie as they answer an unseen interviewer's spicy questions with barbed, evasive responses. The segments are lightly amusing and could have helped reduce the monotony of the movie if Kinberg had used more of them as time-out therapy visits for the couple of "five or six years" to voice their mutual aggression.

The highlight of the movie for Jolie's equally distributed male and female fan base comes when she poses as a dominatrix prostitute to get close enough to her mark to carry out a hit assignment in the privacy of a plush Manhattan hotel room. Beneath a stylish raincoat Jolie wears fishnets and a shiny black corset that becomes the stuff of fantasy fulfillment on her tall feline frame. Director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) indulges the goofy naughtiness of the scene as Jolie straddles her prey with riding crop in hand before ending his life on a festive note. Jolie's Wild Wild West-styled window descent from the high-rise hotel to a busy sidewalk far below, via a cable-extending purse, closes out the scene with appropriate panache. It's the one set piece in the movie that works because it riffs on Angelina Jolie's infamous appetite for fetish while giving her character an appropriate cartoon quality of cavalier physical prowess.

The film toys with role reversals for John and Jane wherein she represents a pants-wearing hot-headed male stereotype and John fills a sensitive-female clich & eacute; attempting to reconcile with his violence-prone partner. The story proposes that by attempting to kill one another, the couple discover the previously obscured source of their mutual attraction. Violence as the heart of lust -- this assertion might have worked if the screenwriter had paid considerably more attention to the relationship at the heart of the romantic comedy.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith becomes a chore to sit through as soon as the short-lived glamour of La Jolie and Le Pitt succumbs to a flimsy plot that's protracted much further than the uneven tone can support. Audiences will have to take responsibility for editing the movie by walking out at the 95-minute mark -- which is about when the film should have ended.

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