- Running time:
- 97 minutes
- Reese Witherspoon -
- Chris Pine -
- FDR Foster
- Tom Hardy -
- Til Schweiger -
- Angela Bassett -
Two of the CIA’s top field agents—FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy)—are put on desk duty after a covert operation leaves international arms dealer Heinrich (Til Schweiger) seeking vengeance at any cost. Forced to lay low, FDR and Tuck spend a little time on their personal lives. They never could’ve predicted they’d end up falling for the exact same woman—perky but perpetually single consumer advocate Lauren (Reese Witherspoon)—and using CIA surveillance to wage a war for her affections.
The buzz: This either brilliant or cynical combination of testosterone-fueled action movie and estrogen-friendly rom-com comes from director McG (“Charlie’s Angels,” “Terminator Salvation”) and screenwriters Simon Kinberg (“Mr. and Mrs. Smith”) and Timothy Dowling (“Just Go With It”). The film received unexpected negative publicity when a planned Valentine’s Day release was scrapped to avoid competition with “The Vow”—a more modest production that was garnering significantly more advance interest from audiences. There’s also a whiff of desperation in the decision to edit some of ribald co-star Chelsea Handler’s more sexually explicit jokes to get a PG-13 rating instead of a R.
The verdict: “This Means War” is an agreeably dim-witted effort that coasts along on the charm of its stars. Far more rom-com than action-driven, the movie begins and ends with over-the-top setpieces but really revolves around lovelorn Lauren’s unexpected romantic dilemma and the increasingly antagonistic rivalry between her dueling suitors. Whenever Lauren’s on a date with one of the guys, the other one is using CIA resources and colleagues to monitor every detail of what happens. Their ethics and judgments make the agents of Showtime’s “Homeland” look like role models of responsibility by comparison, but it’s all played for laughs—which would rarely materialize if not for the inherent appeal of the well-cast central trio.
Witherspoon is more relaxed and effervescent than we’ve seen on screen in years, Pine brings the same swagger and likeability he showcased in “Star Trek” and Hardy digs into what should be his breakout role as a Hollywood leading man (provided the film doesn’t bomb at the box office). So it’s a minor shame that their collective talents are applied to such shallow characters. They’re rom-com types—career-obsessed woman, suave playboy, sympathetic single dad—designed to engage in snappy banter (in two different forms: Tuck and Lauren’s easy chemistry vs. FDR and Lauren’s cutesy conflicts) and wild acts of romantic whimsy (Tuck and Lauren try out a trapeze in a deserted circus tent, FDR takes her racing in an expensive sportscar).
McG’s shiny sleek style and the script’s bombastic contrivances can’t mask the low stakes of the love triangle. In a movie unwaveringly faithful to rom-com conventions, there’s not much actual suspense over who Lauren will choose (especially when one character has a convenient backup plan), or much reason to believe her life would be significantly different either way. The level of threat posed to FDR and Tuck’s longstanding bromance is similarly murky—the film simply feels too nice to do anything that might actually hurt the characters. This isn’t a war, just a friendly battle of movie star charisma.
Did you know? Pine’s work in J.J. Abrams’ hit “Star Trek” reboot is no secret, but Hardy also has “Trek” on his resume. He had a flashy role as a villainous clone of Patrick Stewart’s Jean-Luc Picard in the 2002 flop “Star Trek: Nemesis,” the last “Trek” feature made before the reboot.
Follow Metromix's Geoff Berkshire on Twitter: @geoffberkshire
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