There are many names with interesting stories associated with Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the comedy-thriller about unhappily married assassins who find themselves falling in love all over again when each is tasked to kill the other. There's writer Simon Kinberg, taken with the notion of exploring the five-step process of couples' counseling initiating, interacting, communicating, compromising, adapting through big-bang-boom! pyrotechnics. There's director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity), who wanted to ''take the things that an action film holds sacred and say, 'This stuff's easy compared to marriage.''' Then, there's the ''Brad-and-Angelina'' thing. Guess which story we won't be discussing? ''I don't think we're getting into those questions,'' says Angelina Jolie, when asked how the gossipmongering has hampered (or helped) the movie.
Fortunately, Smith has juice to spare. Before the film became infamous for one thing, it was infamous for another: being a tortured production, due to a director who solicited opinions from everyone and occasionally finished shooting days with not much to show for it. All true, say Smith's crew. And all necessary to nail the film's delicate tone. ''Too serious, it became domestic abuse,'' says Kinberg. ''Too comedic, you never believed these people could kill each other.''
Asked if she was ever frustrated by Liman's process, Jolie, who was cast after Nicole Kidman dropped out, says: ''Sometimes, it got crazy.... Anytime a film goes over [schedule], it can bother me. But I'm also somebody who wants to do something right.'' (Liman makes no apologies: ''I don't analyze myself.'') Getting it right meant supplementing 100-plus days of shooting last year with two weeks in March, where Pitt was followed to the set by paparazzi in helicopters hunting for proof of a Brad Pitt-Jolie relationship. Sums up producer Akiva Goldsman: ''They could make a theme-park ride out of this.''