See movie for fun, not as a how-to

June 21, 2005|By SUSAN REIMER

MY HUSBAND declared long ago that if our little storybook romance ever went south, we were going to shoot it out. No pit bull divorce attorneys. Just gunfire. Whoever lives, gets the kids and the house, he said.

If we had pitched this tongue-in-cheek plan to a Hollywood agent, we'd be sitting pretty right now because that's the box-office-busting story behind Mr. and Mrs. Smith, starring Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and enough fire power to stage a South American coup.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith didn't have any kids and their gunbattle reduced the house to splinters, but they rediscovered each other, and their story is supposed to be a comic metaphor for the modern marriage.

The movie grossed more than $50 million in its first weekend, making it the second-best three-day weekend of the year, behind only Star Wars: Episode III, and that shocked everybody in the trade.

This summertime diversion was meant for adults, but the sex scenes were sterilized enough to get it a PG-13 rating so it could be -- what? -- family fun?

I'm guessing everybody who went was looking to see the first sign of sparks between these two secretive lovebirds. Not to give away too much, but there aren't enough sparks to light a birthday candle, but looking for them gives you something to do during the movie.

Marriage can feel like a war zone, but in this marriage both parties really are trying to kill each other. A pair of assassins are married for five or six years (this is a bit in the movie) before they realize that he isn't in construction, she isn't in computers and their next assignments are to take the other out.

What follows is a mix of not-very-clever banter and hard-core murder and mayhem. The climax comes in the equivalent of a Wal-Mart, no less, in a beautifully choreographed shoot-'em-up reminiscent of the final scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, except this time the good guys emerge without a scratch on them.

This is different from a traditional marriage, where the bickering is the part that can be on target and deadly.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith could have been the glamorous remake of those war-between-the-sexes movies in which the script was the star: His Girl Friday, Charade, North by Northwest, Prizzi's Honor, The Lion in Winter, It Happened One Night and Adam's Rib. These movies ended in a clinch, too, but the sexual energy was in the words and the firepower was in their delivery.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie bicker about as well as they shoot. They took their sprawling suburban manse apart, shotgun blast by shotgun blast, but didn't so much as wing each other. Only when they took to beating each other with fists did any blows land.

Like I said, this movie is supposed to be a comic metaphor for the modern marriage, but if you've been married for longer than five or six years, you know there is nothing funny about huge secrets and murderous thoughts, not to mention hidden weapons caches or regrets.

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis were much funnier in True Lies. And Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner were more murderous in The War of the Roses. Mr. and Mrs. Smith just pose and smirk.

A marriage counselor, whom my husband and I were not seeing, by the way, once told me during an interview that couples should spend whatever free time they have together doing things that make them happy instead of spending that time hashing out old wounds, the credit card bill or the kids' behavior.

"If you like movies, go to the movies," she said, making it sound pretty simple. "In the long run, it will do your marriage more good."

That's my advice, too. Don't go to see Mr. and Mrs. Smith looking for a metaphor, comic or otherwise, for the modern marriage. It isn't there. Instead, just go to see Mr. and Mrs. Smith for some simple summertime diversion.

It could save your marriage.

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