I don't know why, but I am surprised by how sitcomy and amateurish "This Means War" is.
Director McG is not known for particularly well-made or subtle films ("Charlie's Angels", the sequel, "Terminator: Salvation"). But his films make a lot of money. And his name is on a number of fairly successful television shows. So he continues to work.
FDR (Chris Pine, "Star Trek", "Bottle Shock") and Tuck (Tom Hardy, "Inception", "Warrior") are CIA Agents and best friends. Returning home to Los Angeles, Puck decides it is time to start testing the dating waters again because it is time to find someone and settle down; everytime he sees his ex-wife and son, loneliness hits him like a ton of bricks. He posts a profile on a dating website. Lauren (Reese Witherspoon), the head of a "Consumer Reports"-like service also recognizes it is time to do something other than work. Her pushy, salacious sister Trish (Chelsea Handler) puts her profile online, against her knowledge. When Lauren finds out, anger gives way to curiosity when she spots Tuck's profile. Tuck gets nervous and asks FDR to tag along. He agrees to wait at a nearby video store, to provide an out if necessary. Lauren and Tuck meet at a nearby café and get along great before they decide to go on a second date. Lauren leaves, to find a video and spend the night alone. At the video store, FDR starts hitting on her, unaware she was Tuck's date. Before you can say "meet-cute", both friends realize they are dating the same woman and turn it into a competition, using their CIA resources to try to one-up the other. And a terrorist (Till Schweiger) also wants to extract his revenge.
Written by a slew of people and directed by McG, "This Means War" is a silly, completely unbelievable and unromantic "romantic comedy".
Nothing about "War" works like it is supposed to. The initial date between Puck and Lauren is sweet and seems like it could lead to something. But she ends the date, so she can rent a video and spend the evening alone. Huh? If I were on a first date that was going as well as this one seems to be going, the last thing I would do would be end the date so I can spend the evening alone.
But this is, of course, a necessary plot contrivance designed to get her near FDR so he can spot her and they can begin flirting. They don't really seem to have any chemistry at first, but oddly, they agree to go on a date.
There never really seem to be any moments of actual romance in "War". Both men begin eavesdropping on Lauren's life, with the aid of CIA resources and electronics, and begin using the information they gather to make them seem sweet and thoughtful and to make their buddy seem like a cad. FDR takes her to a warehouse to view original Gustav Klimt paintings. A nice, sweet idea, but he learned of her love for the artist by eavesdropping on her. This robs the gesture of any goodwill and only makes their relationship seem creepy. Also, why a warehouse? It would be far more romantic to view these in a dramatic museum or art gallery. The warehouse does nothing but raise a series of odd questions. Rather than build any romance, these gestures only serve to establish a rhythm of FDR and Tuck trying to one up another. Maybe they should just get a room and end the misery for the rest of us.
Pine and Hardy don't really act in "War". They are more similar to guys who are watching a football game, rooting for their team and throwing barbs at the people who root for the opposing team. I guess it is supposed to be funny.
Reese Witherspoon has more to deal with… err, work with. She feels some mild (very mild) trepidation about dating two guys at once. This 'conundrum' gives her character two-dimensionality. But that really isn't enough.
This is also a major stumbling block for the film. After she has what seems to be a pretty terrific first date with Tuck, she leaves the date so she can go to the video store and find something to watch that evening. Alone. Wa – haaaa? I know I have already mentioned this, but it is just a ludicrous plot point. If you are on such a great date, why wouldn't you stick around for a while and get to know each other better? But she must meet FDR, and soon, so she doesn't have time to build any overly romantic notions about Tuck.
Worse, since her date with Tuck was so memorable and they seem such a good match, her initial meeting with FDR is completely the opposite. He comes on very strong and she decides to spar with him. The filmmakers are trying for a Cary Grant – Rosalind Russell type of thing. Actually, that's probably too advanced for the filmmakers. Maybe Goldie Hawn – Kurt Russell? Nope. Julia Roberts – Richard Gere? Closer. But there is simply no connection between them and it is all but impossible to understand why she would agree to go on a date with this guy. Mila Kunis – Justin Timberlake? Bingo.
Even worse, because FDR and Tuck are CIA agents, the filmmakers have cobbled together meaningless business involving a terrorist (Schweiger) who comes to LA to extract revenge for the death of his brother at the hands of the two CIA agents. Throughout "War", there are moments tracking the man's movements, to remind us of his existence, so when he pops up in the big finale, we will remember who he is and accept him. But all of this is handled so poorly, these moments only serve to stand out like a sore thumb. Most episodes of "Chuck" balance the romantic subplot and the spy business much better. McG was also one of the producers of the television series, so it seems a little shocking to watch these moments which are handled so poorly. Was he trying to use material he had leftover from the TV show?
Worst of all, Angela Bassett plays FDR and Tuck's boss, entitling her to pop up a few times, always cross and glowering at her two subordinates. Is this really the best work Bassett can get? If so, that is an extremely sad indictment of Hollywood.
I don't get Chelsea Handler. I've never watched her show and have seen her twice-in two different things; I watched the first episode of "Chelsea, are you there?" the same one everyone else watched before tuning out. And now this film. In both, she seems to be around simply to nag people. Not very interesting or pleasant.
"This Means War" is a confused mess. It wants to be a romance. It wants to be a spy caper. It wants to be an action film. But it doesn't do any of these things well enough to compensate for the shortcomings of any of the other elements. In the end, it just ends up resembling a big screen version of a bad episode of "Chuck".
If you want to pay to watch bad television on the big screen, be my guest. Consider yourself warned.