Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in Mr. & Mrs. SmithMR. & MRS. SMITH

If it accomplished nothing else, Mr. & Mrs. Smith would easily nail a primal attraction for going to the movies: Getting to spend two hours staring at people who are infinitely better-looking than we are.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie play John and Jane Smith, two undercover assassins who have kept their careers a secret during the whole of their five- (or six-) year marriage. All hell breaks loose when they're sent, individually, to knock off the latest name on their hit lists, and the duo discovers that they're actually one another's chief rival. With their careers skyrocketing and their marriage crumbling, what would be the harm in knocking off the competition? (The contract does state "'Til death do us part.") The movie is as throwaway - and as ridiculous - as any lightweight, summertime action-comedy. But for most of its length - I'd say its first three-quarters - Mr. & Mrs. Smith is sensational entertainment, because for the first time in ages, Pitt and Jolie have found on-screen partners as blazingly, enjoyably narcissistic as they are. Watching the film is like being a spectator at the sexiest tennis match imaginable.

With The Bourne Identity and now Mr. & Mrs. Smith, director Doug Liman has come a long way from the scrappy humanism of 1996's buddy comedy Swingers, yet it's heartening to see how much of Liman's off-the-cuff, indie sensibility permeates his blockbusters. Many of us have grown weary of Hollywood "thrill rides" because of how removed they are from everyday experience; we don't mind that the plots don't have any relation to Life As We Know It, we mind that they're so formulaic and effects-driven that there's no room left for personality. What's the point in saving the world when the world is only populated with stick figures? Yet Liman, bless him, is a born entertainer. Working with a suitably cheeky script by Simon Kinberg, he looks for laughs in the most unexpected of places - remember Franka Potente's speedy gathering of information in the Bourne Identity's hotel lobby? - and almost always gets them, as when Jolie balances precariously on a chair while adjusting her drapes, or when Pitt takes a moment from reconnaissance work to grab his morning cup of coffee. (The film's most entertaining scenes involve the couples' therapy sessions with an off-screen William Fichtner, which are timed with flawless comic precision.) Liman goes out of his way to find the details that other directors intentionally leave out, and while he's great at staging the movie's more traditionally exciting set-pieces, it's his attention to minor details that gives Mr. & Mrs. Smith its spin.

Liman's human touch allows Pitt and Jolie to come through with vivid, comically astute turns, and they play off each other with unbridled, absolutely earned self-confidence. Sexy and funny might be the most winning combo a performer can muster, and Pitt and Jolie - in star-power overdrive all throughout Mr. & Mrs. Smith - are as amusingly combustible a screen couple as we've had in years; their mutual cat-who-ate-the-canary grins and - let's face it - physical perfection are a turn-on for both the audience and each other, and the pair is never more hilarious than when beating each other to a bloody pulp. (The beautiful people aren't the whole show, however. The extraordinarily funny Vince Vaughn, with his knack for making every line sound improvised, earns the movie's biggest laugh with his rationale for still living at home: "I live with my mother because I choose to and because she's the only woman I ever trusted.") Until the humor is eventually sacrificed in favor of the expected guns-a-blazin' and glass-a-shatterin', Mr. & Mrs. Smith is Hollywood escapism of the best kind, a movie that perhaps only Jennifer Aniston will derive no enjoyment from.


Taylor Dooley and Taylor Lautner in The Adventures of Shark Boy & Lava Girl 3-DTHE ADVENTURES OF SHARK BOY & LAVA GIRL IN 3-D

He might not win an Oscar, but Robert Rodriguez probably has Father of the Year all sewn up. The latest work from the writer-director of Sin City and the Spy Kids series is co-written by his son Max, who is all of seven years old, and whose drawings are the basis for the kiddie adventure The Adventures of Shark Boy & Lava Girl in 3-D. And although it may be impolite to observe that the movie feels like it was written by a pre-pubescent, it does come off as the most expensive Day Camp arts-and-crafts project ever concocted. For those who care, the story involves a young boy (Cayden Boyd), not-so-coincidentally named Max, whose self-drawn comic books burst to life with the appearance of his invented heroes Shark Boy (Taylor Lautner) and Lava Girl (Taylor Dooley). The exact nature of their super powers is as unclear as the film's plot, which involves traveling to the Land of Dreams to defeat the schoolyard bully who trashed Max's comic books, and its moral, which has something to do with "dreaming a better dream." Shark Boy & Lava Girl is like a sci-fi EST seminar for ankle-biters. In 3D.

For long stretches, the movie is so amateurish you'd think Max Rodriguez was allowed to co-direct the project, too. Wan subplots involving Max's parents (David Arquette and Kristin Davis) and his barking science teacher (George Lopez) are resolved practically before they're established, and although children's performances in film have improved significantly over the years, you'd never know it from Shark Boy & Lava Girl; Boyd's whiny, studied earnestness makes Max the biggest simp to front a Hollywood kid flick since - sorry, but it's true - Peter Ostrum in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. How are the 3D effects, you might ask? Considering the film's budget, perfectly acceptable. Yet watching the action unfurl through rose-and-green-colored glasses dulls out the movie's color palette, and after Rodriguez and company have used their 3D technology to have characters spit on the audience for the fourth or fifth time, the effect has worn out its welcome.

Though it might seem that Rodriguez has momentarily lost his senses with this project, he's still a smart filmmaker, and his clever touches keep the movie from being unbearable. For those of us with a low tolerance for whimsy, Rodriguez has peppered the script with references that should sail over the heads of most seven-year-olds - in Max's dream world, our heroes find themselves visiting the Stream of Consciousness and the Train of Thought - and every so often the director will stage an action scene with legitimate brio. In one sequence, Max escapes an attack by an enormous electrical plug that can't reach Max until it teams up with a gigantic extension cord; the scene displays the comic imagination of an action set piece by Pixar. There are probably worse ways to keep the kids amused for 90 minutes than The Adventures of Shark Boy & Lava Girl; it's colorful and well-meaning, and God knows it's better than Spy Kids 3-D. All I know, though, is that Max Rodriguez had better get his dad a really nice Father's Day card.

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