This Means War doesn’t do much to hide its agenda. A romantic comedy with sharp punches of action, it’s a compromise picture hoping to lure women and their male significant others. Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, and Reese Witherspoon all play to their strengths as two best friends who find themselves falling for the same woman. The filmmakers give this formula a twist by casting the friends as top CIA spies, thus heightening the chaos and misunderstanding.
The movie is never as exciting, romantic, or humorous as it should be, however, and instead is like watching a hyperstylized ping pong match. FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) battle it out when they both begin dating Lauren (Witherspoon), a product tester who keeps running into her ex and his perfect new girlfriend. The spies pose as a cruise ship captain and travel agent respectively, but behind the scenes they employ covert tactics in order to one-up each other and win Lauren’s affection. What starts as petty attempts at sabotage soon escalates into a full-blown operation, complete with zip lines and tranquilizer darts. All this is done under the nose of their superior (Angela Bassett) and under the guise of capturing an international criminal (Til Schweiger) hellbent on revenge.
Director McG, who helmed the two Charlie’s Angels films, shows restraint in the action sequences, choosing to channel most of the firepower into two scenes. In some ways, it works better. Schweiger’s role has the dimensionality of a paper shooting target, and the entire subplot serves mostly to tidy up the ending. McG puts far more thought into the film’s glossy production design, which indulges in high-class spy fantasies. In this imagining, the CIA conducts its business in polished glass and steel cathedrals while its agents live in luxury flats with ceilings that double as glass-bottomed swimming pools.
Unfortunately, the slick packaging is wasted on the utter lack of imagination in both plot and character. There’s nothing original about FDR and Tuck’s capers or the way in which they are carried out. Nor do the two characters do much to stand out from the pedestrian storyline. After his star-making performance as Captain Kirk in the Star Trek reboot, Pine seems an obvious choice to play the cocky, womanizing FDR, but as Lauren points out, FDR spends most of the movie showing that he has “the emotional intelligence of a fifteen year old boy.” Pine doesn’t have much to build on until almost the third act. Hardy is more interesting to watch, perhaps because he gets to play the romantic lead instead of the hard-boiled heavy. He still gets to punch and shoot his way through things, but he also displays a softer side that I wouldn’t mind seeing more of. Not only does Tuck try to mend his relationship with his young son by his ex-wife, he’s anxious about seeing someone he’s just met off a dating site (www.ItsFate.net).
Witherspoon ends up being the wild card in the picture. She’s predictably sweet and charming (see every romantic comedy she’s starred in) despite stringing along two guys. For some, it’s a step forward for feminism, but the amount of deception Lauren and her suitors engage in generally dampens the lighthearted tone. Chelsea Handler as the screeching best friend with selfish relationship advice doesn’t help the cause. Though a movie about spies is bound to employ underhanded schemes, This Means War skews towards manipulation for its own sake, leaving behind too much romance and comedy.
Prod: Simon Kinberg, James Lassiter, Robert Simonds, Will Smith
Writer: Timothy Dowling, Simon Kinberg
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, Til Schweiger, Chelsea Handler, Angela Bassett, John Paul Ruttan, Abigail Spencer, Rosemary Harris, George Touliatos, Warren Christie
Time: 97 min
Country: United States