mr tog and I settled down to watch a popcorn flick on cable the other night: Mr and Mrs Smith. When we saw the trailers for its cinema release, we both thought that while it wasn’t worth cinema prices we should keep an eye out for it on the cable rotation, and it came up, so we watched. So now you get a review, only several yonks after it came out in cinemas and DVD.
On the whole it was enjoyable and well-paced while watching, but ultimately unsatisfying in retrospect. One could see what they were aiming at – Bond meets Die Hard meets Hepburn/Grant or Lombard/Gable. They just never quite hit the mark, just like the Thurman/Fiennes Avengers flick never quite hit the mark.
Now, I don’t think it’s actually the actors’ fault, although I do think both films were not ideally cast. Both pairs in these unsatisfying films showed excellent timing and delivery of their lines, with a nice lightness of touch. But the heart of the byplay between the characters were missing, and it’s because the actors who were cast don’t seem to use much of their own personalities in their work – they are the type of actor who puts themself aside and builds up the character entirely from new cloth.
The charm of the original Avengers was the strong consistency of Macnee/Rigg – strong actors but not – and this is very important – chameleons. The same goes for the screwball comedies with Carole Lombard/Clark Gable, Cary Grant/Katharine Hepburn: all the actors had very strong personas which they could never entirely bury under the characters they played. Fans felt that they were watching a story unfold that was true to how the actual actors would act in such a situation, even when Hepburn and Grant were mucking around with lions. This feeling of noddable narrative was lacking from both Mr and Mrs Smith and The Avengers.
Skeptics may say the screwball comedy chemistry can’t be done in action flicks – to them I say Die Hard and the entire Jackie Chan oeuvre, just for starters. Again, Willis/Bodelia and Chan are versatile and charismatic actors, but not chameleons. Pitt, Jolie, Fiennes and Thurman – chameleons, every one. Almost entirely different from one film to the next, making their characters in whichever film unpredictable. For some roles that works beautifully, but in others it does not. It definitely doesn’t work for would-be action-rom-com flicks where the writers and director don’t give us strong openings to establish the characters really firmly (the writers didn’t give us any memorable one-liners or little individual quirks, either).
mr tog and I couldn’t help wondering how much better Mr and Mrs Smith would have been if it had been made in the early 90s with Tom Selleck or Bruce Willis and Goldie Hawn or Kathleen Turner. Here and now in the noughties Jennifer Aniston (irony abounding) would have been a much better choice for the female lead, and Will Smith for the male. The Avengers needed Colin Firth or Richard E. Grant or Alan Rickman and Catherine Zeta Jones or Kate Winslet or Kate Beckinsale: charismatic and versatile leads who nonetheless always leave some of themselves on show.
I note as an aside that it was much easier to come up with male actors with solid personas for these parts than to come up with female stars. The current fashion in actrines seems to be for more and more negation of their own personality in favour of wearing an all-encompassing mask. Apart from veteran British actresses and Queen Latifah in the States, which female stars have a fully rounded persona that screenwriters write around as The Philadelphia Story was written for Hepburn? I’m not entirely happy with my candidates for my what-if The Avengers, but they were all I could come up with, and I think my choices would be better casting than Thurman, much as I admire her work in other projects.
I’d better get back to packing.