REVIEW: This Means War [2012]

Score: 5/10 | ★ ★

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 103 minutes | Release Date: February 17th, 2012 (USA)
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Director(s): McG
Writer(s): Timothy Dowling & Simon Kinberg / Timothy Dowling & Marcus Gautesen (story)

“Why is she listening to that old man?”

It’s really too bad that Timothy Dowling, Marcus Gautesen, and Simon Kinberg decided their script for This Means War needed to include romance. I don’t know if they were trying to create the ever-elusive film men and women can enjoy equally, but throw Chris Pine and Tom Hardy in the CIA hit squad thread for the full 97 minutes and this could be a great flick. The problem McG has that James Mangold didn’t with his highly enjoyable romp Knight and Day is that his leading lady isn’t involved in the action. Because she doesn’t find herself intertwined in the boys’ work, the film continuously starts and stops as it goes back and forth between personal and professional trouble. At least the comedy stays pretty consistent throughout.

If you’ve seen the trailers you know what to expect as far as the rom/com aspect goes. FDR (Pine) is a ladies’ man; Tuck (Hardy) is a killer with a soul, ex-wife, and cutely precocious son; and Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) is a scorned woman who moved across country for a boy that left her, but found a life she loves in solitude as consolation. The three all want love in their life—well, maybe not FDR, his pad’s swimming pool roof populated by scantily clad women to ogle from the comfort of his couch sort of goes against the whole monogamy thing. A carefully placed advertisement for provides their chance to do so without the time consuming process of courting none have a spare second to devote towards. Lauren’s best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler) sets hers up as a minx of a co-ed, limber and ready to go while Tuck does his own tastefully and simple.

Next comes the date and all goes beautifully until FDR’s support positioning—in case Tuck needed an escape route—finds him unknowingly hitting on his friend’s date as she looks to rent a video before going home. Blowing him off for the kind of confident machismo women say they don’t like but obviously do—or maybe I only think that because it appears men always write these movies—the chase becomes a challenge and the womanizer looks to win the prize. Dates are made, love is in the air, and the two secret agents decide to reveal their respective girlfriends after catching each other in smitten smiles. Seeing their burgeoning loves are the same, FDR volunteers to back off in a backhanded way that triggers Tuck’s need for a victory. The two enter into a gentlemen’s agreement to pursue her simultaneously while Lauren lets Trish talk her into giving a week of polygamy a chance to decide whom she wants more.

Next comes a series of tired sequences of the boys using government equipment to gather reconnaissance and sabotage the other. Sprinkler systems engage to soak one couple while a tranquilizer dart dispatches the other’s opportunity for intimacy. They use the information they glean from conversations between Lauren and Trish to rework their personas in order to be her perfect man, but while it’s a blast seeing Hardy remorselessly manhandle a paintball arena full of young adults, having to sit through Pine wrestling a fake dog is less than appealing. The blatant heartstring tugs courtesy of FDR’s grandparents and Tuck’s son also do more harm than good considering we’re more apt to label manipulation rather than a softer side of two trained killers like the filmmakers hope we will. Not all faux attempts at ‘love’ fail, however. A couple moments between Witherspoon and Hardy are authentic and spying the two on a trapeze is a legitimately heartfelt vignette.

But what happened to the sarcastic wit, disregard for authority, and unadulterated fun of the opening? It’s here where Hardy and Pine shine because their bromance chemistry is better than anything else in the film. Playing a travel agent and cruise ship captain respectively, they are picking up women while on a covert case to take down international criminal Heinrich (Til Schweiger). Secrecy is thrown out the window as bullets fly and the job gets botched, but the laughs given from Tuck’s constant lack of an extra clip and FDR’s recklessness are gold. Watching this scene actually made me think I might be happily surprised before all was said and done. And then Witherspoon’s gorgeously colored offices come onscreen, she starts whining about being alone, and Handler proves why she’s a talk show host and not a primetime actress.

Full disclosure: I didn’t mind Reese too much. She is built for this type of role and moments in front of the mirror talking to herself in exasperation about her boobs sweating is funny. My problem with her scenes—besides grinding the work to a halt when I wanted to see Hardy and Pine kicking butt and spouting oneliners—is Chelsea Handler. I get the whole “bored housewife in love with her boredom but wanting to live vicariously through a hotter, younger friend” trope they are trying to cultivate, but the woman is annoying. Watching her bouncing on her half-naked husband while he has a Cheetos in his mouth does nothing to help the image. Her advice is obnoxious and telling looks of “I told you not to date two men at once (although I really did)” are far from cute. At least Reese has some chutzpah telling smooth-talking Pine how The Lady Vanishes is second-tier Hitchcock.

This Means War has two things going for it and their names are Chris Pine and Tom Hardy. There is no hiding the fact that these two are completely in love with each other in a strictly platonic way and when together they can’t be stopped. With perfect comedic timing, a wealth of facial expressions, and a fun charisma in opposing schools of dating, throw the girl out of the equation and let them reign supreme. Except for one instance depicting a covert dance where the trio nearly missing one another while she sings and they plant bugs in her house to Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It”, no scene devoid of violence truly succeeds. Throw in an implausible finale, saccharine epilogue, and one final joke after the film has already ended twice and I can only shake my head thinking what could have been.

[1] Despite the handshake and smiles, it’s all out war between best pals Tuck (Tom Hardy, left) and FDR (Chris Pine), who are battling over the woman (Reese Witherspoon), for whom they’ve both fallen. Photo: Kimberley French – TM and © 2012 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.
[2] Top secret agents Tuck (Tom Hardy, left) and FDR (Chris Pine) survey their latest target. Photo: Kimberley French – TM and © 2012 Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. All rights reserved. Not for sale or duplication.
[3] Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) is caught between two secret agents, FDR (Chris Pine, left) and Tuck (Tom Hardy), who are waging war to win her love. Photo: Kimberley French – TM and © 2012 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.

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