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Thursday, Dec. 8, 2005 01:55 am

Partners in crime

The premise of odd-couple criminals is an old one

Mr. & Mrs. Smith depicts the fantasy world of hired killers in what approaches comic-book silliness. John (Brad Pitt) and Jane (Angelina Jolie) Smith are the world’s deadliest assassins, yet neither knows the other’s true identity. All marriages have their secrets. They work for rival secret organizations that assign them to the same target, which puts a serious strain on the relationship. Their initial one-on-one confrontation after the discovery is the highlight, but it comes too early in the film. Director Doug Liman weakens his film by resorting to James Bond-ish overkill that blunts the chemistry of the two stars. Mr. and Mrs. Smith is harmless fun if you aren’t expecting much. The premise is hardly a new one. John Huston used it in his classic Prizzi’s Honor (1985), starring Jack Nicholson and Kathleen Turner. Liman can’t match Huston’s cynicism and insight into human behavior. The role of Charley Partanna, a slow-witted soldier in the Prizzi family, should be enough proof that Nicholson doesn’t always play Nicholson. Partanna complicates his life by falling for a woman who shares his interests. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, and Huston never mars his jet-black comedy with a heartwarming cop-out. Prizzi’s Honor is a wonderfully odd look into the intimate world of the Mafia.
John Cusack is one of the most likable actors on screen, and he was definitely cast against type as cold-blooded professional killer Martin Blank in Grosse Pointe Blank (1997). He’s still likable, plus he has issues. Cusack’s scenes with Alan Arkin, playing Blank’s deadpan psychiatrist, are absolute comic gems, and they probably inspired Analyze This (1999) and The Sopranos. Intending to attend his high-school reunion, Blank returns to his hometown, which also happens to be the location of his next job. I wonder whether he thought to use the trip as a tax deduction. Grosse Pointe Blank is an excellent blend of comedy and violence. Gigli (2003) rhymes with “really,” and it really isn’t that horrible. Ben Affleck stars in the title role as a mob hitman who kidnaps the mentally handicapped brother of a federal prosecutor. Jennifer Lopez is another assassin assigned to the job to keep Affleck from screwing up. Affleck and Lopez actually work well together, and Justin Bartha is a standout as their hostage. Anyone who honestly believes that Gigli is one of the worst movies ever made must have a very limited scope. The worst thing about Gigli is that it’s heartwarming.
New releases on DVD on Tuesday (Dec. 13): The Island, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Bad News Bears, Valiant, Roll Bounce, and Saint Ralph.
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