This Means War
Directed by: McG
Written by: Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg (screenplay), Timothy Dowling and Marcus Gautesen (story)
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, Chelsea Handler, Til Schweiger
They say that all is fair in love and war… so obviously if you’re a highly trained C.I.A. operative with access to all kinds of high tech spy equipment, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with using all of that stuff to try and steal your best friend’s girl. This Means War is the latest in a long line of cookie cutter blockbusters trying to capture the male and female demographic by cramming action and romance together in the most obvious ways possible. The affair usually leaves both parties feeling a bit icky the next morning, and This Means War is no different.
In the summer of 2010, we had Knight & Day and Killers, both of which featured female protagonists being swept off their feet by handsome, mysterious men who also happened to be secret agents. This was followed later in the year by The Tourist, a movie in which those gender roles were simply reversed. Now This Means War is attempting to up the ante but putting not one but two hunky spies into the mix, both competing for the affection of an unsuspecting woman. The movie exists in a cartoony world of stale one-liners and faux sentimentality, but the one thing it has going for it is the charisma of its primary cast.
Reese Witherspoon plays Lauren, a consumer product tester who just can’t seem to find the right man. Her uncouth sister Trish (Chelsea Handler) posts a provocative profile for Lauren on an online dating site, and before she knows it she is set up on a blind date with Tuck (Tom Hardy), a divorced secret agent who is somewhat apprehensive about dating again. She likes him a lot, but after the date she also runs into his best friend FDR (Chris Pine) at a video store. Being the ladies man that he is, FDR turns on the charm and eventually manages to earn himself a date as well. At work the next day, they are both eager to brag, but soon realize in horror that they are dating the same girl. A friendly competition is struck, and unbeknownst to Lauren, plenty of juvenile spy games ensue.
It’s pretty obvious from the outset that this movie does not take place in anything resembling the real world. The two spies botch an operation early on and get chewed out by their boss in a painfully cliched scene where they end up relegated to desk jobs. This leaves them with nothing better to do all day than assign surveillance teams to monitor Lauren and use expensive government resources in order to one-up each other. Sure, in theory, it is somewhat amusing to see them goofing off and twiddling their thumbs, but the problem is that it also undermines the relatively serious action plot thread that involves tracking down a dangerous criminal named Heinrich (Til Schweiger).
As you can probably guess, the action in This Means War is almost completely an afterthought; it’s just pure mindless noise designed to keep male viewers half-interested. Whether you liked McG’s Terminator: Salvation or not, the set pieces in this movie definitely aren’t in the same ball park. He is leaning much more heavily on his Charlie’s Angels experience here, but unfortunately, he fails to inject these scenes with a sense of fun. They are simply played straight and end up being totally rote and forgettable.
On the bright side, Chris Pine and Tom Hardy both have fun with their chummy rivalry, and it is somewhat enjoyable to watch them spar with each other. Pine plays a variation of his Captain Kirk character here, a smooth operator who lives in a bachelor pad with a glass ceiling where bikini-clad women swim overhead. I mean, come on… the guy’s name is FDR! What more do you need to know? Hardy, on the other hand, gives a decent performance as a very earnest and sensitive divorcee who has been out of the game for far too long.
Reese Witherspoon has built her career on being America’s sweetheart, the down-to-earth “everywoman”, if you will, and if you ask me she’s in this movie to attract ladies, not men. She is okay in the film, but Chelsea Handler is pretty much the worst. She exists solely to rattle off crass jokes that aren’t the least bit funny, and every time they cut to her throughout the film they add 2 Live Crew’s “Me So Horny” in the background just to make it even less funny. The one silver lining is that her character has a comeuppance towards the end that is somewhat enjoyable.
In general, the movie varies wildly from somewhat endearing to eye-rollingly bad. There is a goofy scene where FDR and Tuck are sneaking around Lauren’s house planting bugs while she dances around singing Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It”, and it kind of embodies everything that is wrong with the movie in my eyes. Still, if you think that sounds ridiculous, picture the scene where FDR reveals to Lauren that his perfect film recommendation is Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes… because, of course a guy like him would be into Hitchcock. On the flip side, I have to admit that seeing Tom Hardy let loose in paintball actually had me chuckling, and on top of that, it is probably the best action scene in the film.
Although I don’t generally like to complain about this, it’s worth pointing out that the entire movie is basically laid bare in the trailer. There are no surprises and it’s all completely predictable, although strangely Reese Witherspoon’s choice at the end really doesn’t feel very satisfying at all. I suppose you could find worse entertainment on a Friday night, but let’s face it, these kinds of movies can be so much better… James Cameron’s True Lies remains the benchmark for mixing action, comedy and romance into the perfect popcorn flick. Overall, This Means War serves its purpose as a low brow cinematic compromise, but be warned: with a cheap date like this, there is a very good chance that you may regret it in the morning. — Sean
Recommended If You Like: Knight & Day, Killers, Charlie's Angels