"This Means War": A Lazy, (Vaguely) Pro-Patriot Act Bore

| Fri Feb. 17, 2012 4:00 AM PST

A delectable post-chase sequence Reese-Witherspoon-sandwich in "This Means War" (2012).: Photo courtesy of 20th Century FoxA delectable post-gunfight Witherspoon-sandwich in This Means War (2012).

Photo courtesy of 20th Century FoxThis Means War
20th Century Fox
98 minutes

After sitting through This Means War, you will probably feel like someone hit you with a large truck, and then forced you to eat the truck: mentally reeling, bilious, and more than a little mad at the world.

This latest romantic comedy with guns works off a popcorn plot cobbled together from the scraps of other big-budget fluff: A pair of young and debonair CIA operatives are at the top of their globetrotting, terrorist-neutralizing game. There's FDR (played by Chris Pine), the kind of 21st-century spook who spends almost as much time clubbing as he does womanizing. And then there's Tuck (Tom Hardy), his British-American partner who serves as the emotionally mature foil. On top of that, the two are best friends—you might even say that they're bromantically inseparable.

And, sometime between all the overseas terrorist-killing and looking enviably chiseled, the two agents start falling for the same woman: a consumer-products tester and Georgia native named Lauren Scott (a vivacious Reese Witherspoon). FYI, she doesn't know that her suitors are secret agents, or that they're best buds. So begins the personal "war" between two spies, replete with elaborate pranks and borderline-psychotic acts of sabotage.

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Oh, and thrown in there is a subplot involving a big-time international criminal named Heinrich (Til Schweiger, who played this nihilistic German in Inglourious Basterds) who's pursuing some vendetta against FDR and Tuck.*  It is difficult to remember that he's actually in the movie, due to the fact that Heinrich is the lamest, most inconsequential Eurotrash villain to come along since Dmitri Gredenko popped up in the sixth season of 24.

Essentially, the movie is Mr. & Mrs. Smith 2.0, with a hint of True Lies....or a Season 7 episode of Friends, but with more high-speed bloodletting. In the director's chair is McG, a man whose directorial style can be accurately described as Brett Ratner meets a Tim Pawlenty campaign ad. Joseph McGinty Nichol just hasn't matured much as a filmmaker since his silver-screen debut: the passable, sleek Charlie's Angels. This is probably for the best, considering the last time he tried his hand at heavier subject matter he damn near bulldozed the entire Terminator franchise.

And with This Means War, the 43-year-old director is back in familiar territory as he was in 2003's Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle or his 2002 Fox series Fastlane: Lame jokes, gossamer storyline, action sequences edited to an incoherent oblivion, and empty banter recited by some extremely good-looking people.

The CIA agents blow millions upon millions of taxpayer dollars on their competing efforts to get laid by a hot blonde from Georgia.

Most of the movie is focused on the civil-liberties-screwing lengths these men will go to win over Lauren: They break into her house—at the same time—to gain valuable information, like which painters she admires, or how she enjoys staring at cute dogs. Each assembles his own team of special agents to help out with intel gathering. FDR cites the Patriot Act as his legal cover for wiretapping and video-monitoring Lauren's every move. They blow millions upon millions of taxpayer dollars on drones and around-the-clock surveillance in their competing efforts to get laid.

All of this should be funny and satirical; instead, the lovesick spy games erode into childish creepiness. When the fellas begin launching tranq darts at each other and engaging in constant, mumbled bickering, inducement to eye-rolls is more likely than snickers.

The lazy humor is framed by the kind of dialogue you've come to expect from a "Shit ___ Girls Say" YouTube clip: "Mistakes are what make us who we are," FDR posits to a vulnerable and seduceable Lauren. "Do you think it's possible to love two people equally?" Lauren grouses to her BFF Trish (comedienne Chelsea Handler, basically playing herself—desensitized, loud, sex-obsessed).

And when the tedious snooping lets up, and the bullets do start to fly, there isn't enough blood or adrenaline to make things interesting—hell, the hand-to-hand combat in Bride Wars is more brutal than this—and there isn't an ounce of imagination invested in the skirmishes. A shootout at a titty bar is a lackadaisically staged mess, and the climactic car chase through the elevated motorways of Los Angeles is mind-bogglingly brief.

After watching an action-thriller/rom-com that falls so tremendously short on the action, the thrills, the rom, and the com, you'll notice that each one of the three leads deserved a much better blockbuster to star in. Tom Hardy will atone for this as soon as The Dark Knight Rises arrives in multiplexes in late July. Chris Pine has already proven himself to be an adept, versatile performer with such films as Bottle Shock, Unstoppable, Smokin' Aces, and 2009's Star Trek under his belt. And Reese Witherspoon is Reese Witherspoon.

In the final seconds of its hour-and-a-half running time, the film serves up a minor plot twist—an attempt at lighthearted boys-will-be-boys humor that fumbles as an abrupt, unnecessary gag. It feels rushed and out of left field...until you realize that the whole movie is just one long unnecessary gag.

This Means War gets a wide release on Friday February 17. If this review hasn't completely turned you off yet, click here for local showtimes and tickets.

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* They threw his brother off a skyscraper, a faux pas that's been known to upset international-terrorist siblings.

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