REVIEW: Doomed This Means War Gives New Meaning to Counter-Intelligence

Movieline Score: 4

If men are from Mars and women from Venus, This Means War drifts in cold, empty space somewhere between the two orbits, where, as the famous tagline goes, no one can hear you scream.

The film, the first to be directed by McG since 2009's Terminator Salvation, is sort of an action movie with a rom-com twist, and sort of a screwball comedy with explosions and shootouts, but doesn't commit enough in either direction to really please whichever half of the theoretical couples in the audience dragged their reluctant significant others along to the theater. Is this a movie about how the CIA's greatest partnership is almost destroyed by competition for the affections of a winsome blonde from Atlanta, or is it one about how said blonde has to choose between two dashing men keeping some serious secrets, the least of which is that they know each other and are also acquainted with each other's courtship plans? Bromance or romance, This Means War feels like something scrawled by enterprising teenagers who developed their concepts of love and espionage from films and TV shows they caught over a few weekends of basic cable surfing (Timothy Dowling, of Role Models and Just Go With It, and Simon Kinberg are credited for the screenplay).

This leaves you with no option but to lay back and bask in the movie-star wattage of the cast, which is considerable and unexpected, and try not to pay attention to anything they're actually doing or saying. Reese Witherspoon coasts through familiar territory as Lauren, a product tester who moved to Los Angeles for a guy (Warren Christie), broke things off after catching him cheating, then buried herself in her work rather than trying to move on to someone new. I like her far more as an actress when she manages to get away from the usual sorority-girl-with-a-spine-of-steel, but she does bubble away earnestly here, lecturing herself in the mirror about being "a confident woman" and dancing in her undies to "This Is How We Do It." In a less comfortable role is Tom Hardy, playing the a very different breed of cinematic spy than he did in his last onscreen appearance as Ricki Tarr in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (though both characters have scenes in which their ladyfriends drive them around in a convertible). Hardy's still immensely watchable as Tuck, but he seems aware that he's a awkward fit for a light romp of a film, especially as the sweet and sensitive point of the love triangle — he looks more likely to steal a kiss after mugging you than mood-light his chic loft with candles.

He does loosen up as the film goes along, but he's more lively hazing his bestie/rival FDR Foster (Chris Pine) than wooing Lauren with dates to the Santa Monica Pier and paintball range. Pine hasn't had a chance to take many roles between Star Treks, and he's proves himself to be just fine as a smarmy eterna-bachelor whose chosen target for something more serious turns out, unfortunately, to be the girl Tuck just went on an Internet date with. Unlike Hardy, he knows better than to bother searching for any sincere emotion in FDR, who may not be Lauren's favorite (let me never be accused of spoilage) but is certainly the director's.

In the film's peculiar conception of the CIA, there's seems to be a lot more assassination going on than the secretive gathering of intelligence (and no one explains why a Brit is working there). After a supposedly covert opp dissolves into a rooftop firefight with a helicopter swirling money into the air and a body plummeting off a highrise, FDR and Tuck are grounded by their boss (Angela Bassett, given nothing to do), which explains why they have so much time to misuse Company resources to research Lauren and, after they agree to let her choose between then, monitor each other's outings. When This Means War finally works itself around to this spy/dating overlap, it's a cute joke that's too quickly run into the ground — Tuck sniping FDR with a tranquilizer to prevent him from sealing the deal with Lauren is funny, the two men listening in on her conversation about them with her best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler, painful) gets weird, a room full of surveillance guys watching her have sex is really creepy.

The action subplot, which deals with a baddie played by Til Schweiger who's out seeking revenge or something, is nonsensical and, worse, shot and edited that way — fight scenes are chopped up beyond recognition, choreography impossible to follow. The film's two worlds come together in a sequence that manages to be disappointing both in terms of stunt-work and in terms of resolving its romantic conflict, in a thrill-less car chase.

But while This Means War doesn't aim high in terms of its own ambitions (it makes Mr. & Mrs. Smith and True Lies look like works of astounding genius), it doesn't shy away from referencing the greats. A lecture Lauren gives on why The Lady Vanishes is lesser Hitchcock doesn't seem in character, but at least it's not the eye-roller that is the later nod to The Godfather Goodfellas in a nightclub scene. That's a bold choice for an homage in any film, but particularly in one that repeatedly queues up "Me So Horny" as a joke whenever it cuts to Trish spending quality time with her chubby husband at home.

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  • 2+2=5 says:

    Still can't get over the fact that someone will fight over Reese Witherspoon.

  • scott says:

    "If men are from Mars and women from Venus, This Means War drifts in cold, empty space somewhere between the two orbits"

    -- I'm no astronomer.. but isn't that where our beloved Earth resides??

    • S.T. VanAirsdale says:

      Yes, you're right. I'm no astronomer either, but I'm confident that we can share the metaphorical maximum distance of 141 million miles between the two planets with This Means War.

  • dukeroberts says:

    I think that Reese Witherspoon is totally worth fighting for.

  • Come On Now says:

    True Romance was actually pretty decent. Mr. & Mrs. Smith was some poop on a stick, though.

  • Patrick Hallstein / McEvoy-Halston says:

    Hitchcock surely aimed too high anyway; I'm sure Lauren could determine there's no reason why even a great couldn't be put to service simply to reassure women like her they have substance.

    These three were beautiful to look at, to be around, even, and there was even a moment, after Pine agreed to play along to save Reese embarassment, of mature recognition, recondition, that I'll be sliding into Pine's repertoire; but what flattens me most about a film like this is that I didn't sense the director being in knots for having to make a film so built on touching upon all the aspects of ordinary peoples' lives and telling them --simply -- there's validity, there's beauty in it. He probably liked the actors' company; he probably liked creating a film where you can imagine everyone outside the main as props for "your" show -- Cinderella-at-the-ball -- or structures to tell you that outside your disordered conscious life there are sturdy, countering (eg. thin-lipped ex-wife vs. full-lipped Hardy), supporting "walls" to bounce off of or buttress but never dismay you; but what I hope he mostly liked was creating a film where he leaves in a good sense that the lude suggestion of it isn't going to be retracted. The sense you do get is that the reason she didn't test-drive both men through sex, which to me sounded like a very reasonable proposition, wasn't owing to rectitude, but because Hardy's character is made to seem the kind of guy who likes the masculine charge but is boyishly (Britishly?) inhibited by bush (Pine would make it a point of conversation, a starting point -- which speaks for him as well). In sum, that it did transgress beyond simple retraction, to get weird, may speak for it.

  • Pam Bailey says:

    I'm disappointed at the reviews. Did you notice that most of them were men? Well, typically men wouldn't enjoy a movie like this which is definately a chick flick. I went because I'm a fan of Tom Hardy, and I personally was not disappointed at all. I loved it. I did get a little bored in the beginning, but it picked up after they met her. I don't know anything about directing, but basically went to enjoy a film and have a little fun. I really liked it, just for that reason. It seemed like the audience liked it too. I'm beginning to why people can't just go and enjoy a movie these days without picking it apart. Tom Hardy was great as usual.

    • Patrick Hallstein / McEvoy-Halston says:

      Tom Hardy needs a mother and a big brother / father ... or at least it seems that way. All together, they seemed like a pseudo-family that could make things work (a la Bull Durham), with charm. I liked that about the film. Would you agree that with Pine and Reese there looked to be some possibility for an adult relationship (I like when they both get serious), but this film, couched as it is in the necessity of easing film-goers (women's) anxieties, moving none of the characters too far from where film-goers could readily imagine themselves akin to them, furrowing out all the things / aspects of their lives to get a sanctioned check-mark of approval, wasn't going to be for more than a brief moment about?