A “War” No one Wins
Cast: Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, Reese Witherspoon, Til Schweiger, Chelsea Handler, Angela Bassett, Abigail Leigh Spencer
Wow. Given the way other critics have been laying into This Means War, I expected a much worse film. This is not, by any means, a good film, and I do not recommend it. But is it awful? Atrocious? Deplorable? Not really.
The movie opens up in Hong Kong, where two CIA agents and life-long friends, FDR (Chris Pine) and Tucker (Tom Hardy), are on a covert operation to take down an international hit man from Central Casting named Heinrich (Til Schweiger). The mission goes all wrong: Heinrich's kid brother is killed, Heinrich himself gets away, and as a result, both agents are grounded by their boss (a criminally wasted Angela Bassett). Having been recently separated from his wife (Abigail Leigh Spencer), Tucker decides to sign on to an online dating site, where he meets a ditzy consumer products tester named Lauren Scott (Reese Witherspoon). Their first date is a success, but not too long after, FDR runs into her and is instantly smitten by her. Eventually, both men learn that they have fallen for the same woman, and they both agree to continue seeing her until she decides which man she wants to be with. The one condition is that they both stay out of each others way.
Yeah, like that's gonna happen.
The problem with this premise is that Lauren is torn between the two men, and we in the audience have to believe that there is something in both men that she could fall in love with. With the Chris Pine character, you sort of can. At first, she can't stand him. She shoots down his advances in a surprisingly well written scene where they first meet at a video store, and it isn't until he tracks her down at her job and annoys her that she agrees to go out with them. The reason why their eventual romance is somewhat interesting is because we can see it developing throughout the film. You can sort of see how her loathing turns into affection, which eventually turns into love. We follow it from their initial meeting all the way to the end. It's not always convincing, but there is some development there.
With Tom Hardy, not so much. Their first scene features dialogue so phony and flat that we don't believe that she's fallen for him for a second. None of their scenes are convincing, as a matter of fact. There is one eye-rollingly silly moment where the two of them bond while swinging around on a trapeze, and the scene where he takes her to a paintball fight is a complete miscalculation. After hearing her say how she fears he might be a little too soft, he wants to take her to the paintball fight to try to show her how tough he really is by...what? Beating the crap out of innocent people? His antics are so violent here that it's amazing he didn't scare her away.
What's even more amazing, and more than a little creepy, is that both men would choose to continue to pursue her even after they both assume, via surveillance footage, that she's slept with both men. The whole spying on Lauren subplot gets so bizarre that there's even a scene where both men, together, view surveillance footage of Lauren talking about them with her slutty best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler). Granted, the movie does score a big laugh when FDR (Jeez, I hate that name!) shows Lauren a few paintings by her favorite artist, and he starts providing some less than accurate background information on each work of art. But for the most part, the “spying” subplot comes across juvenile (Setting off sprinklers during a hot date? Really?) and kind of tasteless.
The movie also gets a big, if unintentional laugh, when Lauren discovers the truth that both men know each other and have been fighting over her all along. All three of the characters have been dishonest and sleazy by that point, so when Lauren looks at the both of them in horror and says “I trusted you,” it takes every ounce of strength not to scream at the screen, “You're no better. You cheated on them both.”
You'd figure that since the movie was directed by McG that the action scenes would at least be well staged. His work in the otherwise dreary Terminator: Salvation was so impressive in how he used crisp long take shots to film the action scenes, that you would sort hope he would adopt the same approach in this film. Nope. There is one well choreographed, single shot scene where FDR and Tucker break into Lauren's apartment and bug her place, but for the most part, the action scenes are filmed in epileptic camera shots and are edited so haphazardly that all the excitement is drained out of them.
This is especially true of the car chase that climaxes the film. It's no spoiler to reveal that Heinrich shows up again, seeking vengeance for the death of his brother, and that he'll kidnap Lauren, and that FDR and Tucker will set aside their differences to save the damsel in distress. The car chase that follows, unfortunately, is so ludicrous and dull that it feels anticlimactic. You'd expect something, if not exciting (you have to care about the characters for there to be excitement), then at least diverting and entertaining. But the climax goes on auto-pilot, and the bad editing and photography do nothing but make the experience all the more frustrating.
But as I've said before, This Means War is not a total misfire. The leads are likable, which is an accomplishment considering how reprehensible their characters are, and the film's 98 minute running time breezes by at an appreciably fast pace. There are a couple of amusing moments sprinkled throughout the film, and I liked the work by production designer Martin Laing on FDR's apartment, where part of the ceiling consists of the glass bottom of a swimming pool. Yet even though the movie has three likable stars, This Means War is kind of an unlikable film, and it's a shame to see such talent wasted on such an unpleasant production.
Final Grade: ** (out of ****)