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This Means War is more than a stupid action romantic comedy. It’s totally ineffectual. It doesn’t strike the right balance of action and laughs – there’s not nearly enough of the former and it is devoid of the latter – and the story is an exercise in patience. The plot device of a woman having to pick between two suitors is a well established one, but the romantic triangle presented here, even with three talented leads, becomes more tiresome as the movie moves along.
There are movies where their badness becomes endearing. Then there are those like This Means War. Its badness offers no solace, except for the viewer to question how could a movie go so wrong so fast. The answer may lie in its development. The screenplay is about a decade old and originally about two guys vying for the affections of the same female. Only instead of them being suave CIA agents, they were a pair of Joe Sixpacks (insert Seth Rogen and another member of the Judd Apatow acting camp as examples). And their destructive behavior would lead to each other’s downfall and perhaps the world as a whole. Rewrites and polishes would happen over the years as the screenplay fell into the hands of Bradley Cooper, Sam Worthington, Seth Rogen, and even the likes of Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence. Eventually, the movie was made with Reese Witherspoon, once again in a love triangle (after How Do You Know and Water for Elephants), and Chris Pine and Tom Hardy as her two suitors.
Witherspoon plays Lauren, a perky professional that solicits information for quality control about housewares and toys. Recently dumped, she desires a man in her life but is unsure the best way to present herself. Never mind that she’s blonde, single and available, which almost sounds like a crime against nature on how can she not have her Prince Charming, or shows signs that Witherspoon was approached with the script before Katherine Heigl (maybe casting decided to go in reverse alphabetical order when calling actress agents). So when it comes to needing help with picking up men Lauren’s best friend, Trish (the acerbic but sad to admit highlight of TMW Chelsea Handler), becomes proactive and sets her up with a profile on an online dating service.
After spies FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy) fail in capturing international terrorist Heinrich (Inglourious Basterds‘ Til Schweiger), they are assigned desk duty, grounded from participating in field operations until further notice. Meanwhile, Heinrich is plotting his revenge since the spy duo killed his brother. Like the Groundhog Day version of The Breakfast Club, where the two spend their days surfing the web at work and getting paid for it (your tax dollars at work!), they maintain normal working conditions until Tuck decides to try his luck with dating. He goes the online route like Lauren and lo and behold they make a connection. Their first date goes well but runs short – more like speed dating dominated by Q&A instead of drinks and finger foods. When the date ends, Lauren mistakenly bumps into FDR at a video store. FDR with his brazenly cocky attitude towards women doesn’t impress Lauren all that much as she tries to block his advances. His suggestion of renting Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes impresses her, but she finds it to be one of Hitchcock’s â€œsecond-tier titles.” He should have gone with a McG film.
We interrupt this review for a quick gripe – the use of a video rental store as a scene location. It’s 2012, people. Though they are still in existence, video stores as a whole are an afterthought in our day of online streaming, Redbox and Netflix. While it does function as FDR’s and Lauren’s first encounter it purposefully pushes the films of 20th Century Fox (the same studio that produced TMW). If only the store had been a Mondo Video managed by Timothy Stack. Okay, back to our regular programming.
It’s not long after Lauren meets Tuck and FDR that she begins dating the both of them. Neither is oblivious to the fact that they are dating the same woman, but they make a pact to maintain their close-as-brothers relationship and not let her come between them. This, of course, does not happen.
From sabotaging each other’s dates to utilizing high-tech surveillance equipment to monitor Lauren’s home life – sometimes the two guys watch the videos together – to get a better idea of what she seeks in a man, it’s easy to mistake this romance as a bromance. Honestly, they are inseparable and do nearly everything together. Adding a woman to the mix is like adding a match to a stick of dynamite. The problem with this lies in chemistry. Tom Hardy and Chris Pine are good together. Not so much with either Hardy or Pine and Witherspoon. How is this possible in a romantic comedy? I can understand Witherspoon not being able to have chemistry with one beau but with two?
Considering that McG was at the helm, the bookend action sequences have plenty of gunshots, explosions and dead bodies. But they are poorly designed, and even the action sprinkled in between isn’t much better. One sequence in particular at a strip joint stands out where our heroes are trying to discover Heinrich’s whereabouts. The action spills out from a backroom poker game to the dance stage. When the suspect’s face comes in contact with the brass pole it appears to bend ever so slightly.
This Means War is a full-frontal assault of blandness if not outright badness. Tom Hardy feels soft after appearing badass in films like Inception and Warrior. Chris Pine tries too hard to look cool, and Reese Witherspoon, a sweetheart, makes me ache for her Legal Blonde days. The only redeeming feature about TMW regrettably is Chelsea Handler as Lauren’s BFF. She has all the best jokes, if you want to call them that, and is the only character that is happy, though she would admit otherwise.
This post Valentine’s Day release fails at delivering comedy and it lacks the spark that romance requires. As for action, there’s not nearly enough to have it succeed in the genre. Its high-energy makes for cutting good trailers and it has enough music (Beastie Boys, Sade) to make a good mix tape, but that’s about it. Avoid at all costs.
Thumbs up if you got the Parker Lewis Can’t Lose reference.
Director: McG Notable Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, Chelsea Handler, Til Schweiger, Angela Bassett Writer(s): Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg
Travis Leamons is one of the Inside Pulse Originals and currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Inside Pulse Movies. He's told that the position is his until he's dead or if "The Boss" can find somebody better. I expect the best and I give the best. Here's the beer. Here's the entertainment. Now have fun. That's an order!