City Paper is not for tourists
The couple in Mr. & Mrs. Smith could be any of us, really. Well, set aside the fact that they’re assassins. And that they look like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Besides that, John and Jane Smith are pretty typical: They feel trapped in a joyless marriage. They barely hide their mutual resentment, whether discussing the drapes or correcting each other during a therapy session. They always eat at 7, usually silently, with sporadic strained conversation centering on what Jane has added to a same-old dish. Even if the pair weren’t trying to off one another, John’s observation to his wife would still ring true: “You obviously want me dead, and I’m becoming less and less concerned about your welfare.”
See, the fabulous John and Jane, living luxuriously in suburbia and working for rival organizations (how many assassination agencies are there, exactly?), have long kept their true occupations hidden but now have, well, a professional interest in each other. Husband and wife finally decide to take each other out not because their relationship is in trouble—though Simon Kinberg’s hugely anti-marriage script makes much of this—but because they discover that, for reasons unexplained, they were both hired to eliminate the same target (The O.C.’s puppy-doggish Adam Brody, donning a Fight Club T-shirt). This shared objective apparently allows them to officially go Bruckheimer on each other.
Pitt and Jolie are, of course, sleek and sexy. As he’s done in films from Snatch to Ocean’s Twelve, Pitt gets laughs out of little moments: John’s self-congratulatory shimmy after a death-defying dune-buggy ride or the strangling motion he makes when he’s explaining to the therapist how he feels about Jane. And through most of the movie, Jolie is a swoony mix of Lara Croft and Batman, double-fisting automatic weapons when necessary and, in one superslick scene, gliding down the side of a building aided by a purse-anchored wire.
But part of the trouble with Mr. & Mrs. Smith is that although the stars are good at alternately affecting ennui and cool, they go flat when director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) asks them to bring on the rage—and this happens so early, you wonder where the already strained story could possibly be headed. The answer, really, is nowhere. Once John and Jane’s conflict of interest is out in the open, it’s one explosive battle after another, resulting in the destruction of their home, a department store, and, in a Bad Boys II– style highway melee, multiple cars. All the stuff blowing up is supposed to symbolize the couple’s love-hate passion, of course. But there’s a problem with building what amounts to a small-scale romantic comedy around blockbuster-sized violence: Whether Jane is running over her husband or they start clutching at each other after a particularly heated fight, the scenes are full of bluster yet devoid of genuine emotion—so much so that it seems likely the actors are a real-life couple after all.
The only relief during Mr. & Mrs. Smith’s tedious, headache-inducing last half comes from Vince Vaughn, doing a characteristically motormouthed turn as an apron-strings associate who punctuates his spiels about efficiently pulling a job with comments about how his mother is “the only woman I ever trusted.” And yes, this is a movie ultimately about trusting the opposite sex. And, ostensibly, about how ordinary people with ordinary problems can put those problems aside in the face of extraordinary circumstances. Thing is, everything is extraordinary here, from the couple’s unruffled disposal of their targets early on to the peril that finally brings them back together. Vaughn’s lively bit part, some clever dialogue, and the headliners’ sex appeal manage to keep Mr. & Mrs. Smith from being a completely dehumanized disaster. But when Jane insists “Come on, it was just a little bomb” in one mea culpa moment, you can’t help wishing it were even littler.
In Torremolinos 73, co-stars Javier Cámara and Candela Peña do much more with much less. In Spanish writer-director Pablo Berger’s low-budget debut, the pair also play a married couple—though materially poor, rather ordinary-looking, and very much in love. Yet when a little action drops into their vanilla lives, this comedy succeeds in becoming more interesting instead of simply overloading its audience with frenzy.
At the start of Torremolinos 73, Alfredo (Cámara) is an unsuccessful encyclopedia salesman, getting doors slammed in his face by everyone from little old ladies to kids. His landlady is threatening to evict him, while his wife, Carmen (Peña), wants a baby. When his boss, Don Carlos (Juan Diego), sits him down to explain that the encyclopedia market is a thing of the past, Alfredo expects the worst. But instead of getting fired, Alfredo is given another career opportunity: Carlos asks him and his co-workers to switch over to the company’s new film division, which will produce “scientific” movies on reproduction for the Scandinavian market. In short, they’ll all be making a little homemade porn, behind the camera and in front of it.
As the title indicates, Torremolinos 73 takes place in Andalucia in the early ’70s, an era that’s evoked with details from Alfredo’s turtlenecks and ’stache to the washed-out cinematography. When Alfredo agrees to take on these new duties—urged on by Carmen, who’s thinking that the generous compensation will finally let them start a family—the movie essentially turns into a cheerier version of Boogie Nights. Initially nervous as they’re trained—by an alleged Ingmar Bergman collaborator and his tarty wife—in how to simultaneously shoot and be sexy, Alfredo and Carmen quickly gain, ahem, confidence. After Alfredo gets a good response from Carlos on their first film, Berger shows a gleeful montage of the couple’s subsequent efforts, in which characters are assumed and many pieces of secondhand furniture are violated, all to a poppy soundtrack.
Though Carmen merely delights in all the new things they can buy—and is slightly freaked out when she’s recognized shopping—Alfredo gets serious about filmmaking when it becomes apparent he has a gift for it. Torremolinos 73, also the title of the script Alfredo writes and shoots, then becomes a rather funny parody of Bergmanesque art cinema, with Carmen playing the muse while Alfredo directs her caped lover—aka Death—with blather such as “You have an endless desire for desire!”
Cámara, who starred as the obsessed nurse in Talk to Her, is a likable hangdog hero, playing Alfredo straight and slightly tortured while displaying a goofiness that recalls Peter Sellers. And Peña, a plainer Rachel Weisz, makes a believable transition from skittish housewife to camera-ready siren. Though the tone of Torremolinos 73 is essentially bright, Berger does add a few storytelling twists that let the actors wrestle with some deeper emotions. Anger, jealousy, and disappointment are all nicely played out when Alfredo shoots his final scene. And happily, the marriage rights itself—without a superstar, machine gun, or bomb in sight.CP