SPIDER-MANDATE: The Lowe-down on "Secret Wars," Tie-Ins and Stacey Lee
To be honest, I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to This Means War. Do I dive into the blundered, misogynistic treatment of its main female character? Do I whine about the blatant misuse of the most excellent Tom Hardy? Do I bemoan the sloppy editing and Steadicam-style action shots? Or do I just say, “Screw it!” and eat a bag of Oreos?
All signs point to the latter: This Means War, directed by McG, is less appealing than an Oreo binge.
But let’s begin at the beginning. We’re introduced to CIA agents FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy) in an action-packed opening sequence rife with horrifying cinematography (zooms and shakes make up for lackluster explosions and badly choreographed action). The coworkers, and best buds, display textbook “opposites attract” personalities: FDR is a womanizing playboy, and Tuck is a sensitive spirit with a troubled romantic past. The two botch their mission to intersect an illegal deal and bring down baddie Heinrich — it involves the standard briefcase full of money — by killing Heinrich’s brother and letting Heinrich get away.
We’re then introduced to Lauren (Reese Witherspoon), a successful product tester at a Consumer Reports-style company called Smart Consumer Inc. She has no problem speaking in front of an audience or handling a flamethrower, her apartment is gorgeous (as is she), but when confronted unexpectedly in the street with her ex and his fiance she makes up a story about having a fabulous surgeon boyfriend. Because all single women, especially the attractive, smart, successful, independent ones, are ashamed to admit they’re unattached. (Gag me.)
Lauren’s best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler, who spends the film navigating a watered-down version of her talk show persona) — she’s married with kids, and clearly not having the fact that her pal isn’t running in her circle — signs Lauren up for an online dating service using old college photos of her doing keg stands and modeling bikinis. The listing catches the eye of Mr. Sensitive Tuck, who asks her out on a date. When the two immediately hit it off, we’re meant to believe they came together because they were destined to. Because Tuck saw through all those sexy photos to the cerebral girl behind them, right? Riiight.
The twist comes when, after their charmed little lunch, Lauren swings by the video store (apparently this film is set in an alternate reality where those still exist), runs into FDR, shares some witty banter about Woody Allen movies and — voila! — a love triangle begins!
This sets off a chain of events, and a spy versus spy-style competition between the two men (who keep their friendship a secret from Lauren), so ridiculous, it’s practically a parody. Seriously, this movie is about three zooms, an explosion and a product placement away from being a trailer before Tropic Thunder.
Sadly, though, This Means War takes itself seriously. Not only are the action sequences devoid of imagination, or any kind of tension, the comedy is hokey and falls flat. Hardy is the film’s only saving grace: There’s a running bit about him making fun of FDR’s “teeny tiny itty bitty jazz hands” that’s snort-worthy for delivery alone (and trust me, I don’t think I’ve ever been so embarrassed to laugh during a movie). The Heinrich subplot is simply a catalyst for the two to spend 85 percent of their time utilizing CIA resources for personal reconnaissance (none of their coworkers, ultimately their co-conspirators, seems to think this is a problem).
The characters are so painfully one-dimensional, so unlikeable and so generally boring that it’s impossible to stick with the narrative, which is pieced together lazily with some terrible editing choices — namely, more cuts to black than would be needed in three movies combined. And the villain subplot is completely unnecessary, simply a common thread to maintain the pace (for whatever it’s worth), and to incite an inevitable action-packed climax.
Pine and Hardy have workable chemistry — I’d watch a movie with just the two of them — but all other aspects considered, This Means War is a sub-par excuse to blow up some stuff, get three good-looking characters in their underwear and toss in some penis jokes. Even if you’re an intense fan of Witherspoon, Hardy or Pine, I’d implore you to skip this one.
This Means War opens today nationwide.