Writers: Timothy Dowling, Simon Kinberg
Stars: Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, Reese Witherspoon, Chelsea Handler
Release date: February 17th, 2012
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Running time: 97 minutes
Best part: Pine, Hardy, and Witherspoon’s chemistry.
Worst part: The inconsequential sub-plots.
This Means War had all the ingredients to be a perfect date movie. Good looking people and romance for the girls and intense action for the guys. But while the film may be a sweet representation of the battlefield of love, at points it bites off more than it can chew.
It’s a very simple premise that we have here. Renegade federal agents FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy) are all around smooth operators and at the top of their game on (almost) every mission. Their strong friendship is tested with the introduction of the sexy and intelligent Lauren Scott (Reese Witherspoon). With fate bringing FDR and Tuck to her in different situations, their dating lives intertwine into a potentially dangerous love triangle. They must now use any means necessary to steal the girl away from one another with only death and a vengeful Agency target standing in their way. For a story that almost falls apart at the seams, both the stylish direction and stellar cast keep This Means War together. Pine and Hardy prove why they are two of the most popular actors working today. Their dynamic, and at points touching, chemistry in every scene together elevates their conventional roles. With Pine’s character as the smooth talking womaniser with a heart of steel and Hardy’s character being an honest guy struggling with the single life, opposites attract as the snappy dialogue, based on their differing personalities, illustrates their engaging friendship.
Unfortunately, Hardy, proving himself a very talented dramatic performer in films such as Inception and Warrior, seems uncomfortable with the genre as many of his comedic lines and slapstick moments fall flat, giving him the immediate appearance of being miscast. Reese Witherspoon is a stand out as the girl stuck in the middle. As the honest yet ignorant female lead, her energy and bubbly personality creates an enjoyable interpretation of what is normally a bland central character, in the vein of Cameron Diaz in Knight and Day. Despite the strong relationships and charisma between the three leads, the characters themselves never feel realistic. With McG (The Charlie’s Angels films, Terminator Salvation) it comes as no surprise as his films have a distinct lack of humanity due to his heavy focus on stylised action and slick special effects. Pine tries hard with the material but can’t shake off the character’s insanely low brow attitude toward women and patronising attitude toward his best friend. Witherspoon on the o other hand is forced to epitomise the ‘ultimate’ female character. With her fun job, good looks, beautiful apartment and with two good looking guys after her at the same time, the glorification of her situation and actions make her a shallow representation of women. Her character’s situation is also worsened with the constant commentary from her obnoxious best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler).
“Don’t choose the better man, choose the man who makes you a better woman.” (Trish (Chelsea Handler), This Means War).
Many comedic moments in This Means War are hit and miss, particularly in the first half. The gross out jokes and overt sexual references seem at odds with the film’s tone and become instantly forgettable. However as the rivalry between Tuck and FDR picks up, so does the level of set up gags, which actually come off as hysterical in many scenes. There are many over the top pranks, particularly when Tuck shoots down a drone watching his every move, that are wildly entertaining and develop a consistent pace. McG’s slick direction, the quick cut style of the hand to hand combat and the direct sound editing of the explosions and gun fights, deliver one fast paced and exciting action scene after another. McG also knows how to use his settings and cinematography to create the enviable life and skills of a spy. Scenes including Tuck and FDR ducking and diving around Lauren’s apartment unbenounced to her or each other, the action packed mission on top of a skyscraper in Hong Kong and a rather brutal game of Paintball are choreographed and filmed with the technical complexity that makes McG one of Hollywood’s most skilled action directors. This Means War sadly lacks a sense of urgency. The over reliance of its basic premise becomes tedious, as the forced villain plot quickly feels useless and only creates a largely predictable conflict for the three main characters. Til Schweiger (Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz from Inglorious Basterds) tries but has little to do in his one note role as the slimy European antagonist.
Here’s the big, inexcusable problem with This Means War – there are too many cooks spoiling the broth. Thanks to McG’s incompetent direction and the noticeable studio interference, this spy-comedy never get the chance to gather intelligence and execute its mission.