Mark Reviews Movies

This Means War


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: McG

Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, Til Schweiger, Chelsea Handler, John Paul Ruttan, Abigail Leigh Spencer, Angela Bassett, Rosemary Harris

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content including references, some violence and action, and for language)

Running Time: 1:38

Release Date: 2/17/12

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Review by Mark Dujsik | February 16, 2012

There must be more tired and tiresome situational comedy setups than the one put forth by This Means War, but it's certainly high on the list. Two men compete to win the affection of the same woman, while also hiding the fact that they know each other because most people don't like having their emotions treated as a game. Most people also view the practice of active deception as a flaw in a prospective romantic interest, but then again, no one has ever successfully argued that sitcom circumstances are an accurate reflection of reality. 

The moral problems of the scenario should be obvious to anyone with half a conscience, and the movie raises the bar of those concerns by casting its two rivals as CIA agents with an entire intelligence network of satellites, hidden cameras and microphones, thermal sensors (so that one of the competitors might see if the other is causing an influx of heat in a certain part of the woman's body—yes, they're that contemptible), and a mainframe of data that allows them to learn every documented detail of the woman's life. They even have the magic words to quash any worries about the Constitutionality of their deeds: Patriot Act.

Let us try to ignore the absurd overreach of power in the specifics of their actions and simply concentrate on the implications what the protagonists' behavior actually means for their characters. They are, essentially, professional stalkers without any regard for the woman's privacy. Nothing is off limits for them, as they assemble teams of other people to follow her around everywhere she goes when they aren't doing so themselves. Surely there's a promotion and commendation waiting for the one subordinate who's willing to report their activities.

The two agents are FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy), partners and the best of friends. The movie opens with them on a mission in Hong Kong. Their task: Apprehend a pair of brothers and secure some device. They manage to do neither and, in the process, break the only rule set forth by their boss Collins (Angela Bassett): Keep it covert. It ends with one of the brothers dead and the other (Til Schweiger) looking for vengeance at a snail's pace. If one believes there will be a scene in which Collins details everything that happens after iterating that the mission was supposed to be covert, then that person would have a good grasp of the predictability of the screenplay by Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg.

The two, now on desk duty, are completely different when it comes to their look on love. FDR is a playboy (His apartment features a glass-ceiling view to the pool on the roof, which isn't creepy in the slightest); Tuck wants a more meaningful relationship with a woman, like the one he has with his partner. There are, fortunately, no cheap jokes about mistaking their friendship for something else; it's of little solace given the rest of the movie's attempts at humor, which have the finesse of a jackhammer (a sprinkler system set off at an awkward moment, a brawl in a restaurant intercut with a character attempting to calm herself, and the no-nonsense friend giving off-color advice).

Tuck starts a membership at an online dating website, and Lauren (Reese Witherspoon), whose friend Trish (Chelsea Handler in a performance of rapid-fire delivery and one stone-faced expression) sets up a profile for Lauren at the same site, notices Tuck's picture. The two have a date that goes well. FDR runs into her immediately after at a video store, and he winds up also smitten with her (A quick side note: The movie finds the quickest way to make us question the assertion that two characters are film buffs by having them both simultaneously reach for the 1993 remake of The Vanishing).

FDR and Tuck decide to make it a fair fight for Lauren—or at least fair for them. Each agrees to let the other date her, and when each learns that the other has been misusing CIA resources to obtain information about her and how the dates have been going, they agree to incorporate those tactics into the rules. There's a neatly choreographed bit of business in a one-take that follows Lauren as she prepares for relaxing night in as FDR and Tuck pop into and out of frame while installing a series of cameras and microphones throughout the space. The effort director McG and cinematographer Russell Carpenter put into the sequence only intensifies our awareness of how despicable the whole thing is.

The climax of This Means War is especially pathetic, pitting Lauren's inevitable realization of her suitors' game against a standard car chase. It's a copout of the worst variety, ultimately putting her in a loaded situation where she must choose between the two men. The third option is death, and if she had the insight to comprehend that these cads are the only reason she's even forced to make such a choice, she would immediately look for a fourth.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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