Movie Review: This Means War

(l to r) Tom Hardy as Tuck, Chris Pine as FDR

By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)

Sure, it’s a comic contraption built to catch both genders. But as a marketing conceit, it’s a pretty good one. Rom-com for the women, action for the men … put ‘em together and what do you get? A “rom-action,” following in the wake of Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Date Night and Knight and Day, all bowing to the 1984 progenitor, Romancing the Stone. These plot contrivances are usually outlandish – but if the comedy sparkles, and the actors click, Hollywood could do worse.

And marketed for the weekend following Valentine’s Day, we all could do much worse than this latest entry to the rom-action, This Means War. At least it’s not The Vow.

But golly gee, Cupid & Co., couldn’t we have our candy and eat it, too? Couldn’t we get a double shot of both the snap and the sizzle?

Chris Pine as FDR, Reese Witherspoon as Lauren in "This Means War"

 

In this tale of a team of best buds and super CIA agents whose friendship turns acrimonious when they realize they’re both dating the same woman (Reese Witherspoon’s Lauren), a lot of the components work fairly well. Sadly, Witherspoon’s performance isn’t one of them. Her earlier, light comedic touch (such as in the Legally Blonde series) has become strained, the smile all but freezing on her face. Surprisingly, the two male leads, not known for comedy, seem far more relaxed, appearing to be having a hell of a good time. Tom Hardy plays Tuck, the self-effacing divorced single dad, a sad romantic at heart. Chris Pine is his partner FDR, the stereotypical playboy, whose bachelor pad (they still have those?) sports a ceiling that’s actually the glass bottom of a swimming pool that’s situated on the floor above. When ladies swim laps, they’re unaware that their bodies are on display from down below. The fact that Pine can still make this fellow likeable, even with his pool-porn ceiling, is a rare feat indeed.

But someone else steals the show altogether. Known for her stand-up, her semi-autobiographical humor books and acerbic tongue – which she exercises five times a week on her late night talk show Chelsea Lately – Chelsea Handler plays Trish, the motor-mouthed gal pal who’s more than a little controlling. While the stock character of the married mom nipping vodka on the side has been done to death, between the runaway speeches and Handler’s delivery, the laughs are scream-out-loud funny. Singlehandedly, Handler brings the “com” of the rom-com front and center.

If we look too hard, the story will indeed fall apart. Being CIA agents, the spies scope out what makes their ladylove tick, and act accordingly. But herein lies the problem: Men who aspire to take on the role of the dream date, pretending to care about everything that the object of their desire likes in order to win her over, is faulty at best. When does the real person come into play? And when he does, what true commonality might the couple honestly have? Nope, it’s best not to examine but just go along for the action ride.

Other than giving Handler great lines, the three credited writers could have delivered smarter dialogue and scenes. That, as well as inventing more creative ways for the two groups of junior spies (drafted by Tuck and FDR) to spy on the other. As for director McG, it’s obvious that his action chops are far more flexible than his funny bone, having such films as Terminator Salvation, We Are Marshall and Charlie’s Angels in his arsenal.

But This Means War is still an actioner that’s spiced and sprinkled with both rom and com. If a couple chooses to spend an upcoming date night by going to this film, chances are that neither one will be exiting the movie house bellowing in dismay. And for February, that’s an extraordinary, um, mission impossible.

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Rating on a scale of 5 episodes of Spy vs. Spy: 2.5

Release date: February 17, 2012
Directed by: McG
Screenplay by: Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg
Story by: Timothy Dowling and Marcus Gautesen
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, Chelsea Handler, Til Schweiger
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 98 minutes

About Kimberly Gadette

Film critic Kimberly Gadette, born and raised in movie-centric L.A., believes celluloid may very well be a part of her DNA. Having received her BA and MFA from UCLA's School of Theater, Film & Television, she spent many of her formative years as an actress (film, tv, commercials, stage) before she literally changed perspective, finding a whole new POV from the other side of the camera. You can find her last 450+ reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/kimberly-gadette/). Other than taking the occasional side trip to Cannes or Sundance, you can find her at the movies ... sitting in the dark as usual.

Comments

  1. Dan O. says:

    Nice review. All of these leads try their hardest, but the script just lets them down too much with terrible jokes and very ugly feeling underneath this premise. Check out my review when you get the chance.

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