The premise of a couple of oblivious contract killers whose marriage suffers a body blow when their next hit turns out to be each other is hardly a new one. It was, of course, the basis for John Huston's 1985 Mob flick Prizzi's Honor. But where that was a demure black comedy with all the kinetic energy of a chess game, Mr. & Mrs. Smith is a speedfreaks' pinball tournament.
Flushed with the success of The Bourne Identity and still cashing cult-cred cheques on Swingers, Liman brings every ounce of acid wit and furious style at his disposal to this party. The caustic tone is set in a title sequence that finds the Smiths squirming their way through a marriage guidance session, a scene you can imagine Jennifer Aniston finding rather less amusing than the rest of us.
Things hot up on the home front, however, when they bodge coinciding missions to rub out the same mark and their respective agencies assign them to eliminate the competition. Frantic cat-and-mousing ensues. As do oodles of gunplay, outlandish gadgetry and murderously barbed dinner-table quips, darkly mirroring the what's-wrong-with-this-picture? vision of American domesticity beloved of '60s TV shows like Bewitched, with an outwardly perfect couple circling each other over the pot roast (likewise Brad stashing his arms cache in their suspiciously pristine toolshed; Jolie in her spotless, state-of-the-art electric oven).
As you'd expect from a director who effortlessly flipped from the stylish humour of Swingers and Go to the gritty spy thrills of Bourne, the physical duelling's as deftly handled as the verbal, while he keeps the two inextricably intertwined. One spectacularly staged gunfight deteriorates into a drag-out brawl of quite astonishing ferocity. Naturally, as undiscovered tribes in the Peruvian jungle could have told them, this is simply foreplay to an epic shag, from which they emerge, drowsy and satiated, amid the symbolic wreckage of their model home.
Okay, so it's rather ridiculous, and it all goes a bit nuts come the end, but the perfectly formulated chemistry between Pitt and Jolie is sparkling cyanide throughout. Aside from being arguably the two most indecently attractive people on the planet, both achieve the perfect balance of self-deprecation and sexual dynamite, never taking anything too seriously. Pitt's at the top of his goofy-cool-guy's-guy game, and it's an unalloyed joy to finally see Jolie land a role worthy of her mettle. She's funny, sexy as all get-out and kicks ass with a shameless glee that would make Lara Croft blush (it's hard to believe that the more icy Nicole Kidman was originally signed up for the role). Vince Vaughn, essaying yet another delusional dimwit as Pitt's boss, is just the icing on a cake that's almost entirely icing to begin with. Gloriously amoral, grown-up fun.