February 16, 2012

"This Means War" Review

(Note: I'm getting ready to launch a new online entertainment venture in April which will include my movie reviews, but in the meantime I'll be posting some reviews here)

Nearly two decades after James Cameron all but invented the "action romantic comedy" genre with "True Lies," mediocre action auteur McG tries to pull the same thing off again with the bottom-feeding mess "This Means War." It isn't the first time McG, who directed the terrible 2009 "Terminator" sequel, has come up small while trying to fill Cameron's shoes.

A screwballish romantic comedy that's only really a high-octane spy thriller/action blowout for its first and last ten minutes, "This Means War" stars Chris Pine and Tom Hardy as CIA operatives and best friends who both fall for the same woman (Reese Witherspoon), who doesn't know that they're friends or that they're spies.

The twist in "This Means War" is that not only do the two men know about the triangle, but they spend the bulk of the film carrying out high-tech, around-the-clock surveillance of Witherspoon and each other, even leading rival spy teams in order to do so. This must involve the burning off of untold man-hours and taxpayer money, not to mention who knows how many violations of civil liberties. Angela Basset, as their tough boss, has what was probably originally a much larger role cut to about 15 seconds of screen time.

This film is also set in a world in which working for the CIA is a lucrative enough job to earn both men enough to afford opulent homes that look like they cost millions.

Witherspoon is the usual stock chick-flick heroine, treated as pathetic and dateless despite being gorgeous and perfect, and subjected to serial humiliations in front of her ex-boyfriend. She then spends most of the movie feeling guilty about dating two men at once, while bouncing her thoughts off of best friend Chelsea Handler, who delivers a "performance" that consists of regurgitating her own stand-up act in five minute chunks.

There's also a Russian assassin chasing the two heroes, one made especially dangerous by the movie forgetting he exists for long stretches.

Something about "This Means War" just doesn't feel right. Maybe it's Hardy playing the sensitive guy and Pine the womanizing rogue, when they should probably be in the opposite parts. Perhaps it's that the two guys spend the entire film hugging and saying "I love you" to each other- I'm not generally one for "this movie is REALLY about homosexuality" school of film criticism, but this is clearly a love story between two men in which the girl is something of a prop.

Or maybe it's just that the whole thing is pointless. The great joke in "True Lies" was that Jamie Lee Curtis' character was ready to cheat on her husband (Schwarzenegger) because she thought he was boring, when really he was an international superspy and keeping it a secret. Not only is there no comparable joke here, but the final action sequence is stuck in 1994, ripping off both "True Lies" and "Speed" in large measures. And the film's last scene is a disaster that, had the movie preceding it been good, would have served to ruin it.

This isn't the worst love-triangle movie Reese has ever been in- James L. Brooks' inexplicably disjointed "How Do You Know" from 2010 takes that particular cake. But everyone involved in "This Means War" has done much better work, and would likely like to forget about this one.

Posted by Stephen Silver at February 16, 2012 03:11 PM
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