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The couple that kills together, stays together

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The release of the new movie Mr. & Mrs. Smith provides a kind of quaint lesson in the long, often dishonorable history of motion picture publicity. To draw its audience the flacks have naturally employed the time-honored methods of advertising: print ads, television commercials, movie trailers. But they've also resorted to some other charmingly ancient gimmicks, namely the broad exploitation of a putative romance between the principals, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

The movie magazines, the entertainment weeklies, the television news channels, the gossip pages, and of course the supermarket tabloids now discuss the relationship with the intellectual concentration of a PBS discussion of foreign policy.

All that ink, electronic disturbance, and hot air not only create interest in potential moviegoers, but also transform the alleged reviewers into entertainment reporters and gossip mongers, not necessarily a step down for many in the profession. The movie itself then becomes less important than the chatter about the two stars, which in turn inspires the reviewers to discuss with the seriousness of academic instructors such weighty scientific matters as biology, electricity, and chemistry.

Despite all the hype about personal subjects, in reality Mr. & Mrs. Smith demonstrates that no matter how strange, strained, or possibly even serious the fictional situation, Hollywood can turn it into slick comic entertainment. The film's central concept, which everyone by now must know, involves an entirely ridiculous premise --- the husband and wife in a tranquil, even stodgy suburban marriage, unbeknownst to each other, are both professional assassins working for two separate agencies.

Their secrets ultimately unravel, as surely everyone knows they will, when each receives the assignment to kill the other, which not only ignites a series of impossibly violent battles between them, but also establishes them as targets for their erstwhile employers. Once the couple realizes the truth about each other and themselves, they discover they must fight against a heavily armed common enemy, in fact an army of killers who besiege their home, chase them down the highways of suburban New York, and engage them in a climactic shootout in a department store.

Although it takes its title from a rather tepid Hitchcock comedy, the movie draws its real inspiration from two films of the 1980s, The War of the Roses and Prizzi's Honor. It combines the hostility of the failed marriage in the first title with the concept of married assassins assigned to kill each other in the darker second flick, suggesting that beneath the surface of violent action and occasional comedy, Mr. & Mrs. Smith actually serves as a kind of commentary on the perils and difficulties of contemporary bourgeois marriage. To underline that subtext, the movie in fact bookends its action with the couple speaking directly to the camera, the point of view of a marriage counselor, about the problems and issues in their relationship.

The impossibly violent action of the film supplies a number of opportunities for the couple to parody the shocking moments of revelation between two people who lead separate, secret lives. When they return from their mutually botched assignments to kill each other, both partners mention that they missed each other, which quite literally is the case.

As they speed down the highway exchanging shots with three pursuing automobiles, they confess to all they lies they have lived by, including the astonishing number of people they have killed (she beats him easily, 312 to 50 or 60), their respective false backgrounds, the truth about the business trips and professional obligations each has invented.

Aside from the obvious appeal of two extremely handsome and sexually magnetic performers enjoying each other on screen --- Angelina Jolie looks great in vinyl, by the way, with a real talent for the dominatrix style --- the movie accomplishes the remarkable task of making professional assassins, people who murder other people in cold blood for money, entirely likable and attractive. The combination of lively action, some occasionally witty writing, and above all, the appeal and charm of the two stars once again demonstrates the brilliance of Hollywood at its commercial best --- to make a story about murderers a funny, pleasant, and lighthearted romantic comedy requires a weird kind of genius.

Like it or not, and despite all the heavy hype, Mr. and Mrs. Smith clearly succeeds at all it sets out to do, not excluding making an enormous amount of money.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith(PG-13), is playing at Cinemark Tinseltown, Loews Webster, Pittsford Plaza Cinema, Regal Culver Ridge, Regal Eastview, Regal Henrietta.

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