Title: This Means War
Directed By: McG
Starring: Tom Hardy, Chris Pine, Reese Witherspoon, Til Schweiger, Chelsea Handler, Abigail Spencer, Angela Bassett
Every holiday we get some films that merely exploit the time of year, and you know what? There’s really nothing wrong with that. The industry isn’t just about Oscar quality material and films that enlighten. Sometimes you just need some good entertainment and a film about two guys fighting over one girl should nestle in quite nicely on Valentine’s Day. Then again, so should some lovely homemade cookies. Well, unless you burn them.
FDR and Tuck (Chris Pine and Tom Hardy) are glorified secret agents – good looking, suave and they carry guns. They’re assigned to take down Heinrich (Til Schweiger) and his brother, Jonas, in a covert operation. However, one thing leads to another, and the duo has no choice but to dash through a packed club, guns blazing, taking down Jonas while Heinrich escapes. Their boss, Collins (Angela Bassett), isn’t happy with the display and punishes them by banishing them to desk duty.
During their downtime, Tuck opts to fill the void left by his ex-wife by going on a dating site. Meanwhile, Trish (Chelsea Handler) opts to take Lauren’s (Reese Witherspoon) love life into her own hands and signs her up for the same dating website. Turns out, Lauren and Tuck are a match and the two hit it off on their very first date. Problem is, right after Lauren leaves that date, she bumps into FDR, something ignites and Lauren becomes involved with both Tuck and FDR. When the guys find out they’re dating the same girl, they decide may the best man win and, with the help of their CIA resources, go head to head in a battle to win Lauren’s heart.
Sure, the plot’s a little cheesy, but all the promotional material leading up to the full feature has been impressively slick, leading you to believe the final film bears the same quality. Well, it certainly tries, but McG fails miserably. Or perhaps more of the blame falls on screenwriters Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg. The concept of the film is solid, particularly for a Valentine’s Day release and Dowling and Kinberg didn’t have to take it far beyond that core idea. Really, all the pair had to do, was construct a sensible plot and let the action and famous faces do the rest of the work for them. Sure, we wouldn’t have ended up with anything profound, but it still could have been entertaining holiday fare. But sadly, we got neither, as the script for This Means War is not only nonsensical, but doesn’t even feel complete.
One of the biggest problems is Schweiger’s inclusion. His character doesn’t even deserve a name. He should have just been running around with the word “villain” stamped on his forehead because that’s all he was, a one-dimensional bad guy. This Means War opens with some elaborate scheme to catch Heinrich and his brother. Why? Who knows? We’re never told what they’re up to and why the brothers are a CIA priority. Even after Heinrich’s brother is killed and Schweiger’s story is solely motivated by revenge, it still isn’t convincing enough to establish any sense of threat. Plus, it doesn’t help that he’s absent from a nice chunk of the film right after the opening showdown.
Then in comes Reese Witherspoon. Yes, getting to work with a big name director and cast is always a good thing, but did Witherspoon ever even consider her character? There’s really nothing there. Similarly to Schweiger’s part, Lauren is merely “the girl” and nothing more, which is a major problem when you’ve got someone as recognizable as Witherspoon in the role. Pine and Hardy, on the other hand, have some decent material to work with. They’ve both got some layers to them and Pine and Hardy run with that, bringing the guys to life more so than any other character in the film.
By the end of This Means War, Hardy most certainly comes out on top. Both Hardy and Pine are incredibly nice to look at, but sadly, Pine is tarnished by a mean and undeserving character. This Means War is severely lacking in the conflict department because Hardy’s Tuck is clearly the sweet one whereas Pine’s FDR not only has a ridiculous name, but is an absolute jerk, too. Last up on the cast list is poor Chelsea Handler. Someone should consider sticking with her late night talk show. Or perhaps find a better agent. It’s actually surprising Handler would even stoop to this level and not insist on changing some of her character’s gags. Trish is Lauren’s over sexualized buddy and the one delivering what should be most of This Means War’s one-liners, but not only is her dialogue totally unfunny, but her jokes are so bad, it’s rather painful to watch. However, without spoiling anything, towards the end, Handler’s character is part of one of the film’s funniest moments – unintentionally funny, of course.
Now for McG. Ouch. We’ve got some really amateur directing choices popping up all over This Means War. It’s clear the visuals are off right from the start. The opening sequence is overflowing with action, but McG’s coverage choices are downright terrible, making it absolutely impossible to figure out the lay of the land in the club. Then there’s some directing of actors that is quite off, particularly when it comes to Bassett’s Collins. Not only is Collins a rather cartoonish superior to begin with, but McG takes it one step further, making everything from her delivery to her movements terribly rigid. On the other hand, there are a few glimpses of material that remind us why McG is where he is today, the most impressive of which is one long tracking shot where Hardy and Pine sneak around Witherspoon’s home undetected.
No, This Means War isn’t a miserable experience, but the only reason it escapes from the drudges of the purely rotten is because Hardy is just so damn charming. If only every other element of this film didn’t try to spoil the holiday eye candy.