Bad News Bears, The

Instead of going back and trying to do justice to good ideas-turned-bad films like 1978’s “Matilda,” which starred Elliot Gould as a small-time talent agent who sees his big score when he comes across a boxing kangaroo, or 1981’s “Going Ape,” featuring Tony Danza as the son of a circus owner who inherits five million dollars, three orangutans and Danny DeVito, we are treated to middling revisions of classics like “Psycho” and “Planet of the Apes.” So when word broke that Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, the writers behind last year’s brilliant and subversive “Bad Santa” were paid nearly a million dollars for pitching a remake of the 1976 sports comedy classic “The Bad News Bears,” one would expect a substantial change to the story of an older former professional ballplayer turned pool cleaner who takes on a team of misfits Little Leaguers.

Nope. In fact, in reviewing a draft of Ficarra and Requa’s script, dated July 27, 2004, against the original film, there are only minor superficial changes to modernize the story, while much of Bill Lancaster’s brilliant and hilarious dialogue remains intact. Which is not to say the new film will be a complete waste of time. Casting Billy Bob Thornton as Morris Buttermaker is a major stroke of genius. There is probably no better actor working today who could emulate the crustiness of Walter Matthau’s original character while remaining true to his own persona. This time around, Buttermaker, now an exterminator, is hired by Liz Whitewood, in the original, a councilman, now a single mother and attorney to be played by Maria Gay Harden, who has successfully sued the local Little League to include her son Toby and a group of other “undesirable” kids in a new team, the Bears.

The team still includes Tanner, the small-for-his-age pissed-off shortstop, Mike Engleberg, the overweight catcher (who is now on a modified Atkins diet), Timmy Lupus, the booger-eating sheepish kid, and Miguel and Jose Agilar, Mexican brothers who don’t speak a word of English. Ahmad Abdul Rahim, while remaining an African-American, is now a straight-laced young man who admires Mark McGwire. Parts of Ogilvie and Stein have mixed together to become Prem Lahiri, a bespectacled Bengali brainiac, and Garo Daragebragadian, a tall Armenian. The one new completely teammate is Matt Hooper, a self-deprecating paraplegic whose asides are always met with uncomfortable silences. These bad Bears slowly begin to see their fortunes change with the addition of Amanda Whurlitzer, the daughter of one of Buttermaker’s former girlfriends and the possessor of a hell of a curveball, and Kelly Leak, local dirtbike-riding tough kid who also happens to be the best ball player in the area if he ever actually felt like playing. Their main nemeses are still the Yankees, who are still lead by a real jerk (originally Vic Morrow as Roy Turner, now Greg Kinnear as Roy Bullock). In fact, so much of this version is a carbon copy of the original, one might think it would be more financially prudent to just clean up and remaster the negative of the 1976 movie and release it in 2006 as a thirtieth anniversary special edition. But then that would mean missing out on Billy Bob Thornton’s ultimate ascension as this generation’s Walter Matthau, something cinema has been sorely lacking since the passing of the original. Maybe the next big Paramount remake can be Thornton and Kevin Spacey (who seemed to have wanted to be the next Jack Lemmon before trying to become the next BobbY Darin) in “The Odd Couple.”

What will be interesting to watch as this film comes closer to release is how the MPAA’s ratings board will react. Lines that earned the film a PG rating in 1976 and scenes of children holding bottles of beer, presented almost exactly the same way in 2005, might earn the film a PG-13 or even an R rating. Have we as a nation become that somber a country, where things we found hilarious in our youth are now to be kept away from our childrenr I really do want to answer that question, but I’m trying to keep this article suitable for all audiences.

Rating: B+
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Deathlok

When they look at your favorite character, they don’t think of cool designs and/or powers— they think of that all-important male 18 to 34-year-old market demographic. That Holy Grail of modern marketing that makes studio executives go weak in the knees. Based on this, it seems odd that a lesser character would be seriously considered for the big screen treatment. After reading the script, the choice seems odder yet. Does it workr

The script jettisons a great deal of the comic book character’s storyline and design. In the comic, Deathlok was Colonel Luther Manning, a soldier badly injured in combat who then volunteered for an experimental program that replaced much of his body with robotic parts. Not quite human any longer, Manning becomes an unwilling pawn to various agencies. Think of the “Six Million Dollar Man” crossed with the original “Terminator.” There were actually four different versions of Deathlok, but this involves time travel and considerable tinkering with character, which I won’t even try to sort out here.

This script is a very loose adaptation of the comic. What remains is Luther’s name, the name of the antagonist, the cyborg aspect and the theme of self-determination. Everything else goes into the trashcan. “Deathlok” purists, assuming there is such a thing, will be disappointed. In fact, apart from the title page, the name Deathlok appears only once in the script, and that is a note from the writer’s acknowledging a moment as being a nod to the comic.

Now here is the shocker: These changes are all for the best. What the screenwriters do really well here is take the core of the character and start from scratch with a new story. Unlike many other superhero adaptations, they don’t rush through the origin story to get to another story in which the superhero slugs it out with a supervillain who has conveniently arrived on the scene. This script is entirely the origin story and a new one at that.

Luther Manning is a corporate trainer, married to a woman with a son from a previous marriage. After he gets a big promotion at work, they go out to celebrate. But the evening ends badly when they are involved in a bad car accident. Luther suffers horrible dreams and wakes in a hospital. He is discharged shortly, but isn’t quite himself. He is having terrible pains, weird lumps form under his skin and his hearing seems to becoming hypersensitive. Frightened, he heads back to the hospital to see the doctor who treated him. The hospital has no idea who this doctor is and has no record of Luther being a patient. Paranoia quickly starts to set in with Luther.

What has happened is that the crash was no accident. A secret government agency deliberately crashed into Luther so that they could use him as a guinea pig in their nanotechnology experiments. The agency has been testing this project on volunteers from the military but wants to know what happens to a normal man. The nanotechnology basically starts to rebuild Luther from the inside out. He now has a computer wired into his brain, liquid metal armor that can appear when needed, greatly improved vision and hearing and the ability to generate weapons pretty much out of thin air.

The man behind this project is called Modok. In the comics, Modok is a major villain, a guy who is basically all head, with a tiny body. He used high-tech toys to let him float around rather than walk. It no doubt saved him from toppling over from the weight all the time. You just can’t be taken seriously as a villain if you’re incessantly falling on your face, of course. In the script, he’s a normal man, brilliant and very much the architect of everything that happens to Luther. At least at the start of the script.

I’m still very much surprised at how I enjoyed this script. The Deathlok character was one that really never interested me much and judging by the fairly short run of the comic book solely focusing on the character, no one else clicked with him either. But by throwing out virtually everything but the basic premise, screenwriters Metzner and Zicherman are able to create an involving story. The key is Luther. They really take their time and develop him as a character. He’s a hardworking guy who wants nothing more than to make his family happy, as far from a soldier as you could imagine. So when this process starts to take over his body, he has no idea what to do. He really has to try and figure out how to work with the computer now sharing his skull to make something of all his new abilities. Then, with the character firmly established, it becomes clear that the process could overwhelm Luther’s mind, turning him into a soulless automaton. Making us care about Luther adds all the needed weight to this predicament, sucking the reader right in. Most superhero movies are uncomfortable stories, trying to mix too many elements while trying not to offend fans and simultaneously attract non-fans, the mainstream audience. “Deathlok” neatly sidesteps all this. because it isn’t a hugely popular character, making wholesale changes to the story is more palatable. There aren’t legions of fans working themselves into a lather over something like organic webshooters.

The script also makes a real attempt to ground this idea in reality. It leans on the emerging technology of nanotechnology to make the story seems somewhat reasonable, but then it imposes limits on Luther. There are limits to resources and energy and Luther has to recognize that. It adds some real intelligence to the action sequences so you don’t feel the need to turn your logic center off. There is a prevalent theme about what the intrusion of machines into our lives is doing to us. Luther is obviously suffering an extreme case of this, but it’s still and a nice area to explore.

My only real complaint with this script is the ending. Its ambiguousness leaves the door wide open for a sequel, yet it ultimately feels tacked on and undermines some of the previous good work. It’s the pat Hollywood ending to send the audiences home with a warm fuzzy feeling. Here, it just feels badly disjointed when compared to the rest of the script.

Paramount hasn’t really been moving on this story and I think the main reason is cost— The script looks to be the recipe for seriously pricey flick. Heavy use of CGI will be necessary, as will numerous expensive set pieces. That factors back into the little known nature of the character. Can a studio in its right mind actually produce a hideously expensive movie based on a little known character in this day and age, the relative success of “Hellboy” notwithstandingr It’s definitely a gamble. But having read the script I’m now willing to say it’s worth it. This could come out of nowhere and be one of the all-time great superhero movies. Or it could continue to gather dust, awaiting the possibility of funds. Time will tell. This undated draft is credited to Raven Metzner and Stuart J. Zicherman (who are also responsible for the coming “Elektra” and “Nosebleed” efforts), based on the Marvels Comics character. Lee Tamahori (“Die Another Day,” “XXX2: State of the Union”) has been linked to the project as director and Marvel has said on its most recent quarterly conference call that they are aiming for – at earliest – a 2006 release date.

Rating: B+
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Garfield

For those of you unfamiliar with the premise, Garfield is a fat, lazy, sarcastic, lasagna-loving cat with a bit of a cruel streak. He lives with a very single and very geeky Jon Arbuckle (to be played by Breckin Meyer). Jon’s only true friend is his cat and so he pampers him excessively, but things change when Jon takes Garfield for a checkup. Jon falls madly in love with the vet Liz (Jennifer Love Hewitt), although she barely notices his existence and tries to unload a stray dog, Odie, on him. Desperate to win her favor, he takes Odie, even though he really doesn’t want a dog.

Garfield is less than thrilled with his new housemate. Even worse, Odie charms the entire neighborhood and completely ignores Garfield’s attempts to push him away. One night Garfield manages to lock Odie out of the house, so the dog wanders the city, eventually being nabbed by a local celebrity looking to add a dog to his act. Garfield is blamed by everyone for Odie’s disappearance and eventually tries to track the dog down himself.

Garfield, a CGI creation in the film, is voiced by Bill Murray, a great vocal talent that makes for an intriguing choice here. Interestingly, there is a sense of coming full circle with this casting, as the voice actor (Lorenzo Music) who did work on the “Garfield” animated series and other cartons also did the voice of Peter Vankman in the “Ghostbusters” animated series. Also lending their voices to the project are Alan Cumming (“X2”) and Jimmy
Kimmel.

On the plus side, the script features all the major characters that inhabit the comic strip. There is Arlene (Debra Messing), Garfield’s love interest; Nermal (David Eigenberg), the dimwitted but overly cute kitten; Luca (Brad Garrett), the angry neighbor dog; and Louis (Nick Cannon) the mouse Garfield never wants to eat.

But my chief concern is that there is no tension to be found here at all, this is run-of-the-mill heavily predictable stuff. I won’t blame the screenwriters (whose credits include being among the co-writers of “Toy Story”) too much for this though, despite the problem of the tepid plot being theirs alone. I lay the blame for the stale jokes at the feet of Jim Davis. I was a big fan of “Garfield” when it was still a new comic strip, back when he barely resembled the character of today. But over time I drifted away from the comic because it had lost its edge. When new it was a fun read because Davis had a way of turning typical cat traits into a distinct personality that made it all seem deliberate and somewhat condescending to people. I suppose if you read the strip now without having read it before, you can still find that to be somewhat of the case. But, for the long time reader, it seemed as if Davis had gone on autopilot, the strip was just the same jokes recycled incessantly. This script is a very faithful adaptation of the comic strip. But that means it picks up all the tired jokes and half-hearted attitude. I didn’t really have much in the way of expectations for this script, but it managed to aim even lower.

It could be that structure of the two mediums makes for an unhappy merger, which is probably the most likely culprit here. The majority of comic strips are basically just quick jokes that don’t tell a running story, using stock characters to try and make for a funny situation. Taking that setup and then trying to expand it to fill 90+ minutes of movie doesn’t seem a good fit. The script doesn’t have great flow but does have a slew of jokes that it tries to jump between as quickly as possible. The bit with rescuing Odie is the only real plot element and it comes fairly late in the game, almost an afterthought.

It’s possible that this script has been rewritten since the draft I looked at. Or, at least I certainly hope so, although it would need to be a pretty major revamp to address most of my concerns. I doubt that happened, though, as filming was underway in March 2003, just three months after this draft was turned in. At this point I have to hope that the talented voice cast can inject some life into this project. It certainly needs the help. Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow are credited with writing this December 2002 script, adapting it from the long running comic strip by Jim Davis. Peter Hewitt (“Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey”) is directing this live action feature (with the title character handled by CGI), which is currently set to open on June 11.

Rating: D
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Bewitched

Nora Ephron (1993’s “Sleepless in Seattle,” 1998’s “You’ve Got Mail”) is attached to direct and it will feature turns by Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine. Wait, I’m forgetting someone… the most gifted actress in the world, Nicole Kidman.

The film focuses on witch Isabel Bigelow (Nicole Kidman), who decides to move to the Valley. Her father Nigel (Michael Caine), also a witch, doesn’t understand his daughter’s choice: Why does she want to abandon her way of life and become a normal personr At the same time, film actor Jack Wyatt (Will Ferrell) has been dumped and kicked out by his wife, Sheila, while his successful film career has taken a serious drop thanks to a film called “Last Year in Katmandu.” The current definition of a Hollywood has-been, he’s looking to revitalize his image and decides to play Darrin in the TV remake of “Bewitched.” He has only two conditions: he gets top billing and they have to cast an unknown to play his TV wife, Samantha. The search for a new face gets them nowhere until Jack spots Isabel in a bookstore. Begging her to take the part, she accepts the offer as she becomes smitten with him. What follows is a series of problems and witchcraft gone wild that threaten the show and their burgeoning off-screen romance.

The sibling duo of Nora and Delia Ephron have done an outstanding job penning this project. While it is a remake at its core, the story is extremely unique and reminds me a bit of “Adaptation.” Yet the concept of “Bewitched” is remade only inside the storyline of the movie. Instead of the current conventional way to remake the classic TV shows (a la “Starsky and Hutch,” S.W.A.T.,” etc…), I found this storyline to be a refreshing take.

With the inclusion of Ferrell’s “SNL” buddy McKay to rewrite the script, I’m guessing Ferrell’s participation in this project is very serious right now, although he is attached to a number of other projects. McKay is the co-writer and director of Ferrell’s upcoming “Anchorman” and you can see where he has inserted his unconventional comedy into the story; there are some dialogue lines you can see his fingerprints on because the Ephron sisters aren’t that off the wall. Even with these two different comedic styles intermingling here, I think they have found the perfect harmony between the spirit of the original “Bewitched” television show and a Will Ferrell comedy— Nowhere does it feel nostalgic or does it dwell into adolescent humor. It’s clever, smart and amusing from opening to conclusion, it moves a bit fast but it’s not frenetically so.

There is one minor flaw in the story here, for all the positive attributes mentioned above. Isabel has two female friends in the script. Her neighbor Maria and her co-worker Nina are so much alike that you can’t even differentiate one from the other. At one point, I thought they were the same person. The best solution would be to drop one of them. Who needs two under-used female characters when you can a very distinct single oner

For those who have read my past reviews, they might have picked up that I’m a huge fan of Nicole Kidman. Isabel isn’t like most archetypical characters Nicole plays. She’s nice, sweet and a bit naive at first. It’s a departure from the strong, independent and intelligent women she normally takes on (not that she isn’t nice or sweet in the bulk of her other roles). She astutely picked something different and it sounds like fun.

Ferrell plays a real loser in this film, one that will be fun to watch for sure. He goes through every emotion in this film, suffering heartbreak, frustration and insult. Then, he goes totally nuts with his movie-star power, a real diva. The whole spectrum of Ferrell is explored in this picture. He’s even a romantic lead at times. Adam McKay has done a phenomenal job tailoring the Jack Wyatt part into a wild and entertaining Will Ferrell role. I’m curious to see how well Ferrell matches up against Kidman. He’s facing up against the most talented actress in the world right now. Can he hold his ownr

Summer 2005 will belong to Michael Caine. His role as Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne’s loyal servant, in “Batman Begins” is incredibly riveting. In that screenplay, he steals the show. He must have terrific representation because he couldn’t pick a better follow-up then this, another riveting turn for the aging thespian. Shirley MacLaine has a supporting role in this film as well. But while Variety mentioned she was playing Endora, it’s a bit more complicated. MacLaine is Iris Smythson, a respected older Hollywood actress hired to portray Endora on the TV show. Iris is not a witch at all and we don’t see Isabel’s mother in the film although she’s mentioned a few times. Caine’s Nigel begins to hang around his daughter, meets Iris and becomes occupied with her. It’s a fun role for Shirley and she has her share of good lines. Aunt Clara, Dr. Bombay and Uncle Arthur all show up in the screenplay, although I won’t spoil if they’re real or TV characters. But I will say they’re very much like they were in the original show.

There is one more key actor to be cast, Jack Wyatt’s agent Richie. A great choice would be Ferrell’s old “SNL” buddy Chris Parnell. I know he has a cameo in “Anchorman,” but this could be a very good breakthrough and funny supporting role for Parnell. That’s just my two cents.

This summer, “Anchorman” and “The Stepford Wives” will be successes in their own right at the box office; Ferrell and Kidman look to easily repeat the following summer “Bewitched.” This version of the script is dated December 3rd, 2003 and credited to Nora and Delia Ephron. This version of the script (109 pages) also features a rewriting by Adam McKay (here listed as Adam McKay-Ephron, an in-joke). As of this writing, filming is scheduled to begin this summer.

Rating: A-
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Spanglish

Here’s the story: Flor (Paz Vega) takes her daughter Cristina (Victoria Luna) from Mexico to live in the United States with hopes of having a better existence. When Cristina hits puberty, Flor decide to changes jobs to keep a closer eye on her offspring. She becomes a housekeeper in the upscale Californian home of John and Deborah Clasky (Adam Sandler and Tea Leoni). John is a renowned chef and Deb is a rich and chic housewife. The clash of culture and language (Flor can’t speak English) serves as the origin for significant events in both families’ life. And, of course, there is a dog that serves as an amusing distraction at points.

Aside from “Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed” having ruled the box office this past weekend, it’s an incredible time for cinema. In the next year alone, we’ll have new films by Cameron Crowe, Wes Anderson, Alexander Payne and David O. Russell. These guys are some of the most fascinating voices in modern American Cinema. As if there was any doubt, you need to add to this incredible group the fantastic James L. Brooks. Very few stories have touched me like this screenplay has.

These characters didn’t seem like exaggeration of regular individuals. John and Deb Clasky and their children are real, Flor and Christina are folks I have met. The authenticity of those peoples is the highlight of the picture. I don’t want to spoil too much, but there is one scene that stands out from the rest of the screenplay, where John is having a discussion about collectible cards with his young son Georgie. They are interrupted by a scream from his daughter Bernice. She has the newspaper in her arm and starts reading a culinary review out loud to the rest of the family. She starts tearing up toward a paragraph, which proclaims that her father to be the best chef in the United States. The emotion written in that scene is so palpable it’s extraordinary.

I haven’t been this excited about a script since “Something’s Gotta Give.” It’s one step better then that film.

Let me take a step back a minute to explain the film’s title: “Spanglish” refers to the film’s narrator, Christina, and her tale of how they moved from Mexico to California. “Spanglish” is basically her story. At one point, she’s even asked by Deborah if she dreams in Spanish or English; before her move to the U.S., it would have been Spanish. Now, she dreams in English. To a minor degree, the title also refers to the language mix used in the Clasky family after Christina becomes her mother’s translator for them. Despite the frequent change in languages, it isn’t doesn’t serve as a distraction to the audience. In my mind, it’s perfect. Very early on in the screenplay there’s a great note by the writer: “All Spanish dialogue will be worked hard to provide something extra for the Spanish-speaking…working in tidbits or extra exposition, jokes etc…” How cool is thatr I almost want to learn Spanish just for that little extra.

There’s one burning question surrounding this project: Will James L. Brooks be able to direct two relative newcomers (Paz Vega and Victoria Luna) to convincing performancesr I hope so. Perhaps he can even it bring to the level of being award-worthy. He has always hired very gifted actors for his films and made them give career-best performances, with the double Oscar acting win of “As Good As It Gets” the pinnacle of this. I expect nothing less from him here as well.

This is going to be Sandler’s hardest acting assignment ever. It’s a brilliant follow-up to an abysmal performance in “50 First Dates.” The distinction between those two roles is like night and day. In “Dates,” he seemed to be playing the usual Sandler character, but “Spanglish” requires a bit more thespian work from Sandler. He can’t sleepwalk his way through this role. Can he pull it offr I have no doubt about this. In my mind, he was remarkable in “Punch-Drunk Love” and this film is the next logical step in his dramatic career.

I know Tea Leoni doesn’t have that many fans. I know a lot of people who simply HATE her. Well good news for everybody, you’ll love to despise her in this film. She’s a real b*tch. Her mother – played by Cloris Leachman – is a good comedic relief to her b*tchy persona. It’s disappointing that Anne Bancroft had to pull out of that role due to her health, as she would have been wonderful here.

Nobody believed Adam Sandler could headline a dramatic film. In a few months, he could very well be nominated for an Academy Award. Who could have imagine thatr This draft of “Spanglish” is dated October 31st, 2003, and written by James L. Brooks. The title listed on this draft is “Crazy White B*tches” and credited to Sheri Glippens, a cover for the real work and screenwriter. The film is scheduled to be released this coming winter.

Rating: A
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Mr. and Mrs. Smith

Meet John and Jane Smith. On the face of it, they have a postcard-perfect suburban marriage, with John an executive in the shipping industry and Jane the owner of a temp agency. But, unbeknownst to each other, they are both playing a part, a role of convenience— they’re really for-hire assassins, working primarily for two men pitted against each other in an underworld war. In Kimberg’s script, we have a great little nugget that sustains a bubblegum pop feel throughout its 116 pages.

The screenplay is not perfect, but it’s quite an enjoyable effort nonetheless that should translate well to celluloid.

However, there is one thing that does not bode well for the production— FilmJerk.com has heard from various sources that both leads, Brad Pitt (who plays John Smith) and Angelina Jolie (Jane Smith), are suffering from a flu-like sicknesses on-set, something that was recently also picked up by the New York Post’s Page Six. As they’ve lost some shooting days because of this, I hope they’re not cramming the remainder of the filming schedule and ultimately sacrificing the script’s quality for the sake of getting the scenes done. Also factoring into this equation is that Pitt is tightly scheduled, as he begins “Ocean’s Twelve” next month. This is a script of intricacies and of symmetry, and needs a steady hand and discipline from director Doug Liman.

Although that development gives me pause, I’m betting that the end product will be an enjoyable confectionary of husband vs. wife, until death do they part.

SPOILER WARNING!
This script review includes major plot points to “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.” Read at your own risk.

The Plot
The film begins in a marriage therapist’s office, with John and Jane there at the behest of the other. They are not a troubled couple – aside from the lies and the hidden reality – but are there to do the fashionable thing, something that all their neighbors seem be into as the latest suburban craze. The therapist tells them that he is to take them through a rigorous five-step process: They are to initiate, interact, communicate, compromise and adapt with each other. All part of the process to fall in love again, he tells them that they’re “going to have to work, to share. To really zero in on each other.” These words at the outset become the recurring theme to the film, as the two predators do just that throughout the script, albeit not in the doctor’s office.

The action then shifts to a hotel, where a white-gloved waiter is in the process of delivering room service. En route, the waiter is revealed to be a disguised assassin. While humming the song “A Few of My Favorite Things,” he dispatches several guards and then arrives at his main target, a man being protected by a multitude of federal agents. Snapping a leg off the rolling tray that holds the food, the unnamed man takes out a number of the agents, as well as a sweating and terrified man in his 50s who we later find out is an accountant about to turn in an underworld figure. Looking out the window, he sees a cavalcade of law-enforcement types swarming to the scene. After a neat trick that sends off a few more agents trying to capture him, the unnamed assassin is knocked out by a senior agent waiting for his prey.

Moving back to the Smiths, the audience sees their home life: Jane in a “kiss the cook” apron, slicing and dicing vegetables with alarming precision, then meeting him with a plate of hors d’ouevres at the front door as John arrives home from work. Barely touching otherwise, she kisses him weakly on the cheek, before he goes out to trim his treasured roses. Set during the holiday period, she trims the tree alone, placing ornaments on their tree with blinding speed and cracking a string of electric lights on the tree in a whip-like maneuver. During dinner, they share pleasant conversation, nothing more, and – as the script suggests – “we get the sense that every dinner in the Smith house is like this.” During this often-quiet sequence, the audience tries to figure out what their habits and rituals mask exactly, but not before the phone rings. John takes the call on his private line, while Jane is alerted that she has received an instant message on her computer upstairs. Both making excuses, they take leave of each other from the dinner table and separately head into Manhattan, ostensibly because of work concerns.

And each character transforms. Jane no longer is the meek housewife, now fitted is a tight black suit and barking orders to a cadre of similarly dressed women in a corporate setting as a “deal memo” comes in. John no longer is the soft-spoken husband, donning a leather jacket and exuding the swagger of a man in control of his destiny. He is briefed by Sal – his older running partner, sort of the “Microchip” to John’s “Punisher” — in a hotel room. Jane and John share the same target, to take out the assassin seen in the first few pages of the screenplay, neither to the other’s knowledge. They are oblivious to the other’s efforts. But the scenes in how the husband and wife separately go about planning the hit shows the difference in how men and women work and play are quite interesting—`Jane and her cadre of associates get a hard schematic of the building and map out a number of contingency plans, while John cases the
joint and comes up with a plan by the seat of his pants. Jane lives for the “basic rules for a full takeover,” John by the exact opposite— whatever happens, happens.

As you might have guessed, the remainder of the screenplay largely focuses on the two finding out who their significant other truly is and battling against each other. The early revelation of the other’s identity, how they came became married, the symmetry of their first scenes playing out again later in the script and their first real spark/kiss are all stand-outs. The film really shines during the second act, especially when these two are paired against each other in the second act. Some of the scenes that are set up there are problematic and cliche-y, but no it’s the interplay between the two leads that helps it rise to another level. The end, when they decide to join forces, is a minor step down, but plays out well enough. And, of course, the way it ends leaves the door particularly open for a sequel. I’m hoping there is a way to swing a rematch between the two.

Early in the script, Jane lectures one of her associates – who is planning to get married out of love, which is different from Jane’s involvement with John — says that “Marriage is always and only in service to the job. It’s a cover. Part of the job. The job always comes first. And it’s no different now…it’s him or us.” To see how John and Jane reconnect, whether it be at a very base level of understanding their real identifies to later agreeing to work together, is a pleasure. Kimberg does an extremely good job of taking them through the five-step process mentioned above to re-connect— but not in a marriage counselor’s office, of course. On the battlefield.

Thoughts
In terms of the script itself, the middle act needs some minor surgery, just to be further tightened and some of the scenes to be less fantastic in nature. Both the first and third acts are great as is, although the latter could use some touch-up work—after the scenes in the second act, it feels like a little bit of a letdown, but is faithful to the premise and the five-step process of rekindling “that old (new) flame.” It’s a good execution, no doubt, but it left me wanting more than was on the page.

There was one clanging alarm that sounded each time I re-read the opening of the screenplay: How Jolie will do as Jane Smith, something I am personally uneasy with. In the beginning of the script, the audience is supposed to buy her as being the typical suburban housewife, described as having “beauty and breeding” and being “a womanly woman.” But her off-screen persona and her choices of roles before this recently – like the “Tomb Raider” franchise, for example – render her anything but that type of character here, at least in the onset. This is a problem, as I can’t see audiences setting her past work on screen aside from this role; this role requires a lot of buy-in from the premise— my fear is that her housewife guise will be see through immediately by the audience and lessen the intended impact. A classicly trained actress or someone who has not been associated with the action genre before this turn might have been a better choice here, perhaps, even if the actress didn’t have the desired A-list name. Jennifer Aniston, Pitt’s real-life wife, would have made for an interesting choice although it may have detracted from the film’s overall focus. Nicole Kidman and Catherine Zeta-Jones, who were both originally attached to the project at various times this past fall, would have made for a better choice than Jolie, but scheduling apparently prevented them from being a part of the film.

Pitt will have a great time with this role, as he has been attached to this project from the get-go and despite the revolving door of actresses. John Smith is a little like his Rusty Ryan character from “Ocean’s Twelve,” but this should be a real treat for audiences, especially in that he can firmly cement himself as a leading man role, without an all-star cast around him.

Other than Pitt and Jolie, the other casting choices that have been announced are pretty solid. Adam Brody (from “The O.C.”) plays Hector, a character who is kidnapped early on in the film and makes a later appearance somewhat. The problem – in this draft, at least – is that the character name doesn’t appear, but I am guessing from the announcement that he will play the assassin here named Jimmy Jackson we see at the beginning of the film and is the target that causes Jane and John to cross paths. My hope is that this name-change is that the script didn’t change a great deal, of course. Stephanie March (late of “Law & Order: SVU”) will play one of Jane’s lead employees. IMDB.com listed character actor William Fichtner (most noticeable in another of Liman’s films, 1999’s “Go,” and 2000’s “The Perfect Storm”), who would be a god fit for the special agent Ed Webster, who is trying to track both John and Jane.

While many will compare this to “The War of the Roses” – albeit one set in the action genre — the film takes this adage to another level and shows a similar tone of acidic wit. “Smith” needs to stick to the genial, breezy attitude found in the script as written here (which I’d describe as tonally similar to “Ocean’s Eleven” or an Elmore Leonard novel), as it won’t work if the production takes itself too seriously. With Liman at the helm as director, however, I think this is almost a non-issue based on the similarities to his earlier films before that point.

In the end the final verdict is that through both style and substance, “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” looks to be an enjoyable action gem, despite some concerns. This undated script for “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” is written by Simon Kimberg (who, oddly, is listed as “David Kinberg” on IMDB.com). Principal photography for the film began in January in Los Angeles and will soon move to New York.

Rating: B+
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