This Means War (2012) / Comedy-Action
MPAA rated PG-13 for sexual content, violence and language
Running time: 97 min.
Cast: Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, Reese Witherspoon, Chelsea Handler, Til Schweiger, John Paul Ruttan, Abigail Spencer, Angela Bassett, Rosemary Harris
Screenplay: Timothy Dowling, Simon Kinsberg
This Means War starts off with an amusing premise: two CIA Agents use their skills as super-spies in order to compete for the romantic affections of the same woman. The two hunky agents are best friends, the suave FDR Foster (Pine, Star Trek) and tough-guy Tuck (Hardy, Marie Antoinette), who end up unknowingly falling for the same single woman, Lauren (Witherspoon, Water for Elephants), and once they find out, they make a pact that they should both continue to try to woo her fair and square without letting it come between their friendship. However, each man's inclination is to gain the upper hand whenever they can, utilizing surveillance and other means at their disposal to find out how the other is doing, as well as to find out Lauren's secrets as she discusses her two-man dilemma with her meddling best friend, Trish (Handler, Hop).
The film, scripted by romantic action-comedy vet Kinsberg (Sherlock Holmes, Jumper) and Timothy Dowling (Role Models, Just Go with It), would have done well enough to keeping the premise to just the contest of wills between the two macho men who can't stand to lose, and can't avoid the thrill of the hunt. About 85% of the movie is merely the bet between the two alpha males for the heart of the gal du jour, the outcome of which becomes less important as we come to realize that neither jerk is particularly deserving of her attention (though Lauren comes across as such a shallow dingbat, perhaps they are). Unfortunately, the film is also bookended by a superfluous story involving a dangerous European criminal (Schweiger, Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo) out for revenge for the protagonist agents' killing of his brother during a mission in Hong Kong.
There is a meet-cute scene between Lauren and FDR early in the film in which the latter recommends that she rent Hitchcock's classic, The Lady Vanishes, to which she rebuffs him by stating his later Hollywood films are better (though her assertion that it pales to everything Hitch had done between the years 1960 and 1972 shows how off the mark her taste is in his films). You do have to respect the scene for both characters regardless of where you stand on the recommendation, as neither one of them would reach for a film directed by McG for a sure-fire evening of entertainment.
What McG does provide is the kind of fantasy-land aesthetic style he so very much enjoys above all pretense at reality. The CIA's headquarters looks like the most high-tech facility you'd ever and seems always running state-of-the-art software built as much on consumerism as it is for practicality, and every agent looks like they walked out of a fashion catalog. Their apartments are immaculate and grandiose, where a junior government agent can live like a hip-hop mogul, and a woman working for a Consumer Reports-style product evaluation company (she can evaluate toaster ovens better than her potential soul-mates) can dress in the most elegant attire that she can throw away and never wear the same item of clothing again. Their dates are equally pricey -- not just dinner and a movie for these men -- no, these guys will just take any woman out for a swing on a trapeze, out for some adventure at the paintball facility, or secure the rights to have a private display session for Gustav Klimt's greatest masterworks.
McG shares Michael Bay's passion for pyrotechnics and crisp-editing at the expense of nuance, but also of making nearly every supporting character a stand-up comedian. This especially rings true with the role of confidante Trish, which casts TV-show personality Chelsea Handler in a mostly ad-libbed performance that seems to exist in an entirely different universe than the rest of the movie.
The humor isn't much to speak of, though it is energetic and has characters yelling at each other loud enough that you can't take it seriously, so maybe that's the angle. It's more amusing in its situations than how it plays out, which McG plays his hand without a lick of subtlety or grace. But, the leads look good, which might be enough eye candy to sate those in the audience just looking for some open-collared hunks or men who like to see Witherspoon in some ultra-high heels and zero-size dresses, while they all shoot big guns and race around town like expert stunt men. It's a padded-out sitcom with a sky's-the-limit budget and virtually no restraint in scope. If you find yourself actually waiting with bated breath to learn with of the two men have sufficiently lied and cajoled Lauren into choosing to date them exclusively, this kind of silly, vapid entertainment was created with someone like you in mind.
©2012 Vince Leo