Two guys fall for the same girl-next-door who, despite being attractive and having a successful career can’t find a good partner. The girl fancies both and can’t decide immideatly, so (as advised by her best friend) go along with it and dates both until she can figure out whom she prefers. What she doesn’t know is the two are James Bond/Ethan Hunt-like super spies and also happen to be best buddies. Once they both find out about the situation they strike a gentleman’s agreement to also go along with it and not tell the girl, letting her decide in the end. The agreement doesn’t last long, though, as the two employ all resources and skills at hand to get ahead in the race for the girl.
This is the premise for this month’s Valentine’s Day release This Means War. The film stars Chris Pine and Tom Hardy as the two CIA agents, Reese Witherspoon as Lauren the woman of their dreams and Chelsea Handler as Lauren’s dirty-talking best friend. Admittedly the plot doesn’t sound remotely original as it is too reminiscent of the likes of Mr. and Mrs. Smith or True Lies, but it is still a perfectly workable premise for an entertainment mindless action comedy romp. So what can go wrong? Apparently a lot of things.
The first hint that the movie might be less than great should come with the fact that it has been directed by McG. While his over-the-top light fun style worked somewhat well in the first Charlie’s Angels movie, it became completely grating and annoying in its follow-up. The drama We Are Marshall showed the limitations of the director’s talent and the box-office disappointment of Terminator: Salvation forced him back to the lightweight action comedies that kicked off his career. The only problem is that McG who is probably the guy the studios go to when Brett Ratner isn’t available (which is already a very sad statement in itself) can’t really direct either action or comedy very well. That shows terribly in This Means War. The issue also lies with the screenplay which severely lacks good comedic timing. This is not to say that the movie is completely devoid of laughs. The sequence in which Tom Hardy interrupts a date between Pine and Witherspoon by making him say embarrassing things as he whispers them into his earpiece is fairly hilarious as are some of the scenes between Pine and Hardy. However the movie just doesn’t bring enough humor to the table even for its short 94 minutes running time.
As for the action aspect the movie tries hard to be True Lies in places as there is also a completely ludicrous and silly subplot involving a German criminal Heinrich (played by a bored Til Schweiger) trying to take revenge at the two spies for killing his brother. He randomly appears throughout the movie just in order to conveniently pop up at the film’s climax so that the movie can actually fulfil the “action” part of its action comedy subgenre and make Witherspoon the usual damsel in distress. It’s too bad that all the action is quite poorly choreographed and the car chase is badly executed not creating a single moment of exhilaration or fun. It ends just as abruptly as it starts.
Another issue of the film are its characters. The main trio have proven themselves to be good actors in the past, but here only Tom Hardy escapes mostly unscathed. While given an on-screen son and an ex-wife/girlfriend little more is done to deepen his character. Still his more thoughtful and vulnerable character Tuck works much better than Chris Pine’s wannabe suave secret agent Casanova who is somehow able to afford an insanely extravagant loft (complete with a rooftop pool) on a government salary. Hardy still brings enough to his character despite the paper-thin script to make him a more interesting and involving character giving the audiences the one of the two guys to root for. Witherspoon’s character, on the other hand, is the film’s worst. Her Lauren is grating, vapid and certainly gives women an undeservingly bad reputation. Apparently she and Katherine Heigl currently want to join forces to boost misogyny among moviegoers. The less said about Chelsea Handler’s so-called best friend (seriously, why does Lauren like her), the better. Whoever thought that a romcom could benefit from a scene showing her eating nachos out of her fat husband’s mouth during a sex scene shouldn’t write another romantic comedy again. The worst issue here, however, is the absent chemistry between the main three characters. This is not just fatal for the romantic aspect of the film, but also for the portrayal of the apparently great friendship between Hardy’s and Pine’s characters. Their interactions, while amusing, never ooze any kind of a great male bond one would expect from such a film.
This Means War is a very mildly amusing, but mostly annoying and in some spots unpleasantly mean-spirited (I am thinking the very ending here) movie which has good actors in bad roles as good looking, but absolutely silly characters doing silly things. Maybe McG should go further back in his career, past the action comedies and back to making music videos.