November 2022

This Means War (2012)



Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, Chelsea Handler, Til Schweiger, Angela Bassett, Rosemary Harris


This Means War is an adequate hour and a half of diversion for the bored and undemanding, but is as slickly studio-polished a slice of fluffy and forgettable mindless entertainment as can be found.

 CIA agents FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy) are elite spies—or so we’re told, though their bumbling antics during the movie aren’t terribly convincing—and best friends who would take a bullet for each other. The only thing that can come between them is, of course, a woman, in this case Lauren Scott (Reese Witherspoon), who first meets Tuck via an online dating site, then FDR at a video store. With the dubious advice of her alcohol-fueled, sex-minded friend (Chelsea Handler), Lauren decides to date both at the same time until she can decide which one is the keeper. FDR and Tuck make a “gentlemen’s agreement” not to interfere in each other’s relationship with Lauren, which of course neither keeps for long. Thus commences an ever-escalating game of one-upmanship and sabotage as the two use all the surveillance equipment and spy tricks at their disposal. Meanwhile, they are in the sights of a German terrorist, Heinrich (Til Schweiger), who has a grudge against them for the death of his brother.

 Those who come to This Means War looking for “action comedy” may be disappointed. The action on-hand is just a little flavoring to spice up the beginning and the end, brief and generic bits with neither cleverness nor excitement, and in between, the emphasis is on “romantic comedy” (or what passes for it here).   The premise could have held potential for something a lot more clever than anything on display, but McG and the screenwriters never aspire for anything above lazy laughs.  Curiously, the movie starts out seeming like it’s setting up some mockery of the “bromance” genre, which also could have had some potential, then abandons it.  The plot is simple-minded and has “studio product” written all over it. We are presented with a love triangle between three good-looking people (the camera lovingly worships its photogenic trio like a movie-length photoshoot), and things are wrapped up with maximum happy ending effect, with two of the pretty people being paired up, while the third wheel gets a shoehorned consolation prize just so we don’t have to feel bad for anyone.  Of course the shallow commitment-phobic playboy will develop real feelings for the first time.  Of course the two buddies will part ways in the 11th hour.  Of course the plot device villain, conveniently waiting until the climax to actually do anything, will take the girl hostage.  Of course this will bring our less-than-dynamic duo back together to save the day.  At no point in time does This Means War take any risks or do anything surprising.

The filmmakers don’t seem to fully grasp the unwritten rules of the romantic comedy formula, even as they deal in cliches and lazy plot contrivances.  The entire central situation is both morally dubious and ridiculous, making everyone involved look like an immature man/woman-child, Lauren look too fickle and indecisive to be worth all the bother, and FDR and Tuck look like they’ve never heard of things like abuse of power or workplace ethics.  Late in the film, a scene tries to give Lauren the moral high ground, even though she’s been dating two men simultaneously behind each other’s backs (true, they’re “sharing” her with each other too, but she doesn’t know that at the time).  SPOILER WARNING  Also curiously, they seem to work at cross purposes to their own ending, building up FDR as a smug, manipulative asshole constantly on the prowl for new notches on his bedpost and then, after pitting him for most of the movie against Tuck, an amiable divorced dad who dotes on his young son and just wants someone to settle down with again, try to throw in a “redemption” for FDR in the last half hour or so that comes too late to make us buy him as the better catch.  Maybe someone should have told the filmmakers that it’s not a good idea to make the romantic triangle’s third wheel more sympathetic than the guy who gets the girl, but they commit this cardinal sin of romantic comedies/love triangles, ensuring This Means War doesn’t truly fully succeed on any level.  It doesn’t have enough action—and what it does have isn’t anything memorable—to be an “action comedy”, it’s not funny enough to succeed fully as a comedy, and its romance is unsatisfying.  There are few things more frustrating in a love triangle than the feeling that the filmmakers have paired up the wrong people, and the bad taste the ending leaves gives This Means War the final push over the edge from merely bland and forgettable to irritating.

 When it comes to the cast, suffice it to say that this is not anyone’s finest hour.  Chris Pine and Tom Hardy have both given solid performances elsewhere, but as an action-comedy buddy duo, they’re no Mel Gibson and Danny Glover.  Pine could probably be an excellent romantic comedy leading man in a better entry.  He oozes charm and charisma, even if there’s not much difference between his performance as FDR and his performance as the young Captain Kirk, except with the douchebaggery cranked up a few more notches.  Pine has enough charm to keep his Kirk on the right side of the fine line between cocky hero and smug asshole, but FDR crosses it too much.  For his part, Tom Hardy seems a little neutered; he may have looked at this as a chance to chill out and show a lighter side after his intense, edgy roles in stuff like Bronson and Warrior, but being relegated to the thankless role of the nice guy who finishes last leaves him with little to do besides play second fiddle to Pine.  If nothing else, he’s at least allowed to be attractive unlike some of his other roles, and gets to keep his English accent (although the movie makes an odd, unfunny, and probably offensive running joke about Tuck’s nationality), but seems uncomfortable in romantic comedy territory.  And if Pine and Hardy don’t convince us they’re elite spies or best friends, Reese Witherspoon’s ostensibly uber-desirable Lauren never convinces us she’s especially desirable.  It’s hard to say how much of this is the actress’ fault, but her performance is occasionally shrill, and and while she’s breezy and perky, she doesn’t radiate the sex appeal for me to totally buy that she can seduce two hunky BFFs into fighting a pitched battle over her.  A sexier, more charismatic actress might have given a little more “oomph” (then again, she wouldn’t have had a better script).  Til Schweiger and Angela Bassett’s roles define thankless, with his consisting of stalking around looking mean and providing an opening and closing action scene, and her making a couple walk-on appearances to sternly scold FDR and Tuck.  Rosemary Harris (Spider-Man’s Aunt May) pops up to dispense some token grandmotherly advice (her name here isn’t Aunt May, but it might as well be).  The only one who gets anything juicy is Chelsea Handler as Lauren’s obligatory sex-brained best friend, who gets some acerbic one-liners.

 Director McG comes from a background of directing music videos, and This Means War has the surface sheen and glitz.  It’s a flashy, high-energy, whizz bang series of moments whipped together into a cookie cutter morsel of disposable entertainment that’s mildly diverting in the moment but has the depth of one of its glitzy shots.