Review: THIS MEANS WAR
"Let's talk about Hitchcock. Alfred Hitchcock, that is, the film director. Surely you've heard of him. Haven't you? Most people have heard of him. But allow me to recommend one of his motion pictures for you to watch on the telly: The Lady Vanishes. Most people have never heard of it, but I tell you, you'll have a smashing good time watching it, I'm sure!"
The above represents my attempt to replicate the "humor" involved in This Means War, a "film" that plays more like a pilot for a cancelled television series, directed by the man who calls himself McG. If you read the opening paragraph and thought it was not funny at all: I agree with all my heart. I am completely unsuited to write humorous articles or to pen sparkling dialogue for three attractive people involved in a romantic triangle.
But, then, so are the people who were actually paid (presumably) handsome amounts of money to write This Means War. The screenplay is credited to Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg, and the story credit goes to Dowling and Marcus Gautesen. Dowling's resume includes Role Models and Just Go With It, while Kinberg's past credits include Mr. and Mrs. Smith, X-Men: The Last Stand, Jumper, and Sherlock Holmes; he's listed as a producer for this film as well.
Now it's always difficult to ascertain who, exactly, is to blame when a romantic comedy is a dud, and the responsibility does not rest entirely on the screenplay. Director McG has established himself as a journeyman director, capable of dealing with larger budgets and big stars, yet delivering films that are near the nadir of the talent involved. (Charlie's Angels, Terminator Salvation.) He seems better suited to television, where he has helped produce multiple shows that have run multiple seasons.
Without the distraction of regular commercial interruptions, however, his feature films are shown to be flat and colorless, never building momentum or moving forward in a perceptible manner. They're ideal for channel surfing, for peaking in at random moments before returning to your regularly scheduled programming.
As for the stars, This Means War will prove to be an embarrassing lapse of judgment for Tom Hardy, who was, perhaps, looking to show that he could do light comedy and romantic fare, as well as the heavy-duty dramatic performances for which he has become known. Likewise, Chris Pine has abilities far beyond what he shows here, with sub-par material that is too soggy to escape without drowning in its mediocrity.
Reese Witherspoon is another story. It's become increasingly clear that her Academy Award-winning turn in Walk the Line was an aberration, that she prefers to do inconsequential films that don't require much more than walking on set and assuming her sweet-and-sassy on-screen persona, dishing out lines with her characteristic snap.
Which might be satisfying if she chose better material, or at least material that was better-suited to her talents. Like McG, however, she is most comfortable within a narrow range, and when the material is as sit-com worthy as it is here, she might as well make the transition to television, where the pay is pretty good and the hours are better.
Regarding the plot: Witherspoon plays a lonely product designer who ends up dating best friends Hardy and Pine simultaneously. The two men are government agents and try to disrupt the other's relationship in a "Spy Vs. Spy" setup. Witherspoon's best friend, Chelsea Handler, is married and periodically gives her advice, such as "go for it!" Hardy and Pine utilize the resources of the government agency, including considerable manpower from their agent buddies, to track Witherspoon.
And to circle back around to my opening paragraph about Hitchcock, that's a gambit used by Pine to pick up Witherspoon at a video store. She ends up telling him that The Lady Vanishes is good, but not as good as any of the films that Hitchcock made from 1960 to 1972. (Namely, Psycho, The Birds, Marnie, Torn Curtain, Topaz, Frenzy.) That's a perverse opinion, and if it defined Witherspoon's character in the movie -- perhaps as someone who preferred to hold her own strong views on everything from movies to marriage -- we might be getting somewhere. But, no, it's just tossed out there as "cute" and dies of loneliness in the avalanche of stereotypical behavior that follows.
In short, This Means War is a date movie for couples who can't stand each other.
This Means War opens wide in theaters across the U.S. today.