When two secret agents and best friends (Tom Hardy and Chris Pine) discover they’re dating the same woman (Reese Witherspoon), they act like ridiculously competitive jocks in high school pining over the head cheerleader. The two spies battle each other, physically and mentally, in an effort to win over their dream girl, utilizing every lavish gadget and technique at their disposal. Their behavior feels more Stephanie Meyers than Tom Clancy, as this sort of female wish fulfillment fairy tale is usually reserved for dueling vampires and shirtless werewolves. This is clearly a fantasy, as very little is plausible, but, considering the talent involved, it’s not very exciting, either.
McG, the film’s director, made the underrated and impressive Terminator: Salvation and the bubbly, better than expected Charlie’s Angels but, despite his sporadic success at action and comedy, his latest has so-so fight and stunt sequences and only broad, obvious laughs. Even with lowered expectations, This Means War is a mild, shallow, vanity vehicle for Witherspoon, who looks great but barely seems to be putting any effort into this.
She coasts through her role, while her co-star, pop diva Chelsea Handler, steals the movie. Despite her robotic line readings, the ever popular Handler adds sass to her every scene by appearing to improvise her every line. This would be fine, were Witherspoon not an Oscar winning actress and a first rate comedienne; Witherspoon’s non-performance is as depressing as Julia Roberts smiling her way through her own lesser vehicles.
The men don’t have it any better: it’s nice to see the usually intense Hardy smile so much but he’s clearly miscast. He may be a wildly versatile, deservedly up and coming actor but light comedy doesn’t appear to come easy for him (though the script may be as responsible as his performance). Not only does Pine have no chemistry with Hardy (they’re supposed to be longstanding best friends, which never comes across) but there’s nothing he does for this role that John Krasinski couldn’t have done better and with more ease. The three leads are attractive but the awkward contrast of acting styles makes the love triangle as hard to believe as everything else here.
It gets better as it goes along and has an amusing mid-section, with the two spies using covert technology to sabotage one another’s attempts at courtship. Yet, nothing here is remotely new: the comedic surveillance scenes, as well as the overall tone of the movie, is on loan from True Lies, there’s a climactic car chase out of Mr. and Mr. Smith and the bit where Witherspoon gives herself a pep talk in a bathroom mirror while a violent fight breaks out is a direct steal from Cameron Diaz’s identical moment on an airplane in Knight and Day.
For such a lavish studio movie, the CG effects are strikingly phony looking and the terrific Angela Bassett is totally wasted in a generic supporting role. The color palette of some scenes (especially Witherspoon’s workplace) are obnoxiously garish, while many scenes, including the big action sequences, are edited in ways that cut them too short.
Everyone in the cast will do better next time, as Hardy has The Dark Knight Rises this summer and Pine will return soon to his breakout role as Captain James T. Kirk. I worry about Witherspoon, though–I hope movies like this and Water for Elephants won’t make audiences forget what an exceptional actress she can be.
It may be lively and diverting at times, but, instead of settling for a True Lies wannabe, shouldn’t audiences just watch the real thing instead?
This Means War
Rated PG13/98 Min.