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AT THE MOVIES: The Beautiful and the Damned: Mr. and Mrs. Smith (**1/2)

There hasn’t been a more riveting pair of beautiful people on the big screen since Michelle Pfeiffer paired up with Mel Gibson in Tequila Sunrise. In it, the beauty of the pair fell like a raw egg in a cold pan. Pfeiffer and Gibson had nothing in common and no matter how pretty they were to look at, there was no sizzle. Such is not the case with Angelina and Brad, arguably the two most traditionally beautiful people on the planet. What happens between the duo in Mr. and Mrs. Smith isn’t that they generate sexual heat but that they really “get” each other.

Much has been made of the supposed affair between the two (we still don’t officially know whether or not they have fulfilled what appears to be their destiny and gotten together) and whether or not it would affect box office. Turns out, it only helped fuel the public’s desire to see them together on screen, propelling the film to number one this past weekend. The film itself sort of proves Angelina’s claims that she never slept with Brad during the film shoot. In the cases of other films in which the two stars were already physically entangled (Gigli, Proof of Life) the movie bombed. Whatever Brad and Angelina were feeling for each other, it was repressed – and perhaps that’s the source of the electricity we see on screen.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith has a ludicrous plot that somehow manages to entertain nonetheless. A husband and wife discover they’re both hired assassins and each has been ordered to kill the other. In the beginning, they are a bland married couple with nothing to look forward to but predictable dinners at seven, many sexless nights, and vast expanses of silence between them. After “five or six” years together, they really didn’t know each other at all. All of that changes when they see see each other armed and dangerous. Suddenly, the excitement is back, they can speak freely about who they really are, begin confessing their past lies – which is enough to ignite the old passion and, before long, Mr. and Mrs. Smith aren’t fighting to kill the other; they’re fighting to be together, and alive.

Here, Pitt plays up to his own machismo by making Mr. Smith the far more wimpy of the two – with confidence to spare and the comfortable knowledge that he is our culture’s supreme alpha male, Pitt allows himself to be the one who isn’t as good a shot, sings along to sappy songs on the radio and miscalculates how adept his wife really is. This allows Angelina to put him firmly in his place. She is perhaps the only human who is gorgeous enough to upstage Pitt, making it plainly clear that she would never be one of those women who felt blessed to have a guy like Pitt look twice. Sure, she likes him but she doesn’t need him.

Whatever is going on between the two of them privately, on screen they have the kind of rapport and chemistry that comes along maybe once every twenty years. There isn’t much they couldn’t do together that wouldn’t be captivating. On the other hand, the film doesn’t have enough substance to linger in our minds, if only ever so briefly to contemplate how good-looking these two were and how much they look like they belong together.Like Pitt, Jolie is right at the top of the food chain of beauty and sex appeal – and in Smith, she reveals a comedic side and lampoons her own cool-as-a-cucumber on-screen persona. She wears the pants, there’s no doubt about it, and has a kind of ferocious domineering quality that with one look could reduce any man to a sniveling mess. Only a guy like Pitt would relinquish his own strength and hand the film to Jolie, something no big star has done since Bogie handed it over to Bacall or she took it from him. Either way, they got each other and made room for each other and the result was, well, what legends are made of.

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