In theaters Friday, Nov. 13
1.5 stars (out of 4 stars)
Mr. & Mrs. Smith have taken a trip to the Maltese Coast. And wow, are they miserable.
Don’t keep them company.
That’s the big takeaway from a pointless and glacially paced vanity project from Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Written, produced, directed by, and costarring the missus, the film will be remembered — if it’s remembered at all — as the couple’s ill-conceived turn into Gigli-ville. At least it’s significantly more gorgeous.
Strip away the pair’s sizzling and playful chemistry from their hit 2005 action flick. In this drama, the two play a married couple in the 1970s who, from the moment they arrive at the sleepy French beach hotel, palpably despise each other. He’s a writer named Roland; she’s a former dancer named Vanessa. Yet at no point will you not think to yourself, “That is Brad Pitt. That is his wife, Angelina Jolie. They are married in real life. I wonder how weird it was for her to direct her husband. It’s crazy that they have six kids.” (Such is the downside of a super-famous Hollywood couple paired up on-screen).
“We’re here to get away from it all,” Roland explains in perfect Francais to the hotel owner at check-in. Indeed, judging from their stilted conversations and her penchant for self-medicating, there’s an underlying issue haunting them. (It’s so unoriginal that you will guess it within the first 30 minutes.) But this movie isn’t about solving a mystery — if only!
Jolie would rather capture fleeting scenes from a tormented marriage. For much of the pic, she smokes on the sun-kissed balcony and gazes forlornly into the horizon. It’s like she only wants to film herself looking as glamorous and bored as possible. (The woman even goes to bed in full makeup, complete with false eyelashes.) He drinks heavily and engages in wistful conversations with the seen-it-all owner. If there’s a narrative treasure in here, it’s buried deep in the sand.
These long days and nights at the beach perk up a bit upon the introduction of the young French honeymooners vacationing in the room next door. They’re friendly and in love, which piques Vanessa’s curiosity to unsettling degrees. With the discovery of a small hole at the bottom of the conjoined wall in her room, she becomes a 24/7 voyeur. She can’t stop watching them have sex and talk about having children and have more sex. Even after Roland catches her on the floor with a guilty smile on her face, the two watch together. But he does it as a form of bonding with his distant wife, while she just lets the rage burn deep inside her.
In a more sophisticated piece of work, this could have laid the foundation to a fascinating psychological thriller — one in which an emotionally pained housewife is determined to slowly sabotage her marriage, as well as the union of two perfectly happy strangers, in a dreamy international backdrop. And all her helpless husband can do is watch the drama unfold through a tiny peephole. Keep the original title; lose almost everything else.
That doesn’t happen. The promising arc meanders around without direction until it falls apart completely. (An unusual girls-only card game doesn’t contain a single piece of titillating conversation; a shopping trip into town is even less intriguing.) It would have behooved Jolie — billed as Jolie Pitt in the opening credits — to have written Vanessa with a discernable personality. When she’s supposed to be devious, she speaks to Pitt in a peculiar innocent baby-doll voice. When she should be vulnerable, she lashes out at him. Her true motivation is so murky that Pitt must hastily explain it to the audience via voice-over in the final few minutes. And that’s after we watch her mope around for two hours.
One of Jolie’s most admirable characteristics is that she refuses to do things the conventional way. Give her credit for writing an original story and directing her second movie in two years. But she wastes the opportunity with this self-indulgent meditation on a dead-end marriage. Mr. & Mrs. Smith Part Deux might have been a long shot, but it’s mystifying as to why she and her husband couldn’t have crafted a more compelling work. Even better, they could have let a more seasoned screenwriter or director enter their elusive world and offer some expertise. It’s a pity. Or, in this case, a Pitt-y.