This Means War

This Means War is the kind of movie that I really like, probably because I am the target audience. I’m a male and relatively young (at heart…), so it’s my kind of fare, right? Like Tango and Cash?

Sort of.

Here’s a preview:

The deets:

Released February 17, 2012

Written by Timothy Dowling, Simon Kinberg, and Marcus Gautesen

Directed by McG

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

Rated PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

This Means War looks promising. It stars the lovely Reese Witherspoon who hasn’t played a part like this before, the very sincere Tom Hardy, and a pretty funny Chris Pine. The conceit that two top-notch spies fall for the same girl, while having to deal with a nasty baddy, is pretty nifty. But it doesn’t quite deliver.

Story

FDR Foster (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are best friends and are two of the best CIA agents in the business. Supposedly. It’s easy to question this assumption when they flub the one mission we see them on, killing one of their targets, letting the other get away, and only barely acquiring a certain device– all while making a huge mess of what was supposed to be a covert operation.

In any case, they are grounded to sit behind desks for a time as penance. We find out here that Tuck is divorced with a kid and that he is very much out of the game. A game which FDR happily and skillfully plays. Tuck puts a profile up on a dating website.

Next we meet Lauren Scott (Witherspoon), a consumer advocate who tests products. She has a foul-mouthed and mostly useless friend called Trish (Handler). Trish places a profile for Lauren on the dating website too, although she makes quite a bit up. Despite the idiocy of this approach, Lauren and Tuck connect and meet up, getting along very well. In fact, they have actual chemistry.

Unfortunately, Lauren meets FDR on the same night and they start seeing each other too. So now you have two spies dating the same woman, or rather, one woman who has decided it’s okay to date two men. She gets to the point where she commits to deciding between the two men, but only after sleeping with both of them. All of this happens as she is egged on by apparently ad-libbed, foul lines from Trish.

Add to this triangle the vengeful brother of the man the two spies killed at the beginning of the film, and we really ought to have a decent action comedy that unfolds as hijinks ensue from the two spies using their training and technology to spy on each other and play pranks to cool down each other’s romance.

Critique

The problem is that the spies are basically irritating caricatures who don’t really resemble anyone we know or want to accept as real. One is the ladies’ man. One is the down-to-earth   divorced dad. But there’s really no difference between them of any significance, because they both resort to terrible things, including spying on this girl they are supposedly falling for.

Then there’s Lauren. Sure, Witherspoon is charming and she has excellent timing and she does what she can with this lady, but this woman chooses to two-time these gents. There’s no moral consequence for this, so we’re left wondering about who this person really is.

Next up we have Trish, the foul-mouthed and grating and irritating and totally unfunny Chelsea Handler. What is the allure of this woman? She’s a sardonic, profane woman. That’s why people love her so much? She goes for the cheap laugh based on coarse humor, base human nature, and crassness- both in the movie and on her show. She’s painful to watch.

Finally, there are the two tech teams that Tuck and FDR recruit to help them run their covert ops on each other. This is the best part of the movie. These two groups essentially adopt their leader in the same way Steelers and Ravens fans adopt their teams. There’s no moral high ground for either man, but the tech guys are unfailingly loyal.

So This Means War has three perfectly fine actors playing perfectly charming caricatures and it has perfectly fine jokes that elicit perfectly fine laughs. But it’s pretty vapid, despite some clever scenes, because there’s no real human center to it all. Lauren freely two-times while the spies freely break numerous privacy laws– and they get away with it all.

Granted, everybody who deserves payback gets it, so that’s nice. But the fact that Lauren picks who she picks is all kinds of random, leaving the viewer, yet again, with no real sense of reality or humanity.

If you like high-tech schtick and charming actors doing their best to get past a sad script, worse directing, and totally useless musical scoring, go see This Means War. Otherwise, you’re better off with Spies Like Us.

Content warnings: a few scenes of sensuality, some pretty heavy violence with gunfire and explosions, some profanity.

Writing: 1.5          Acting: 4          Overall: 2 (terrible directing is the wild card here)

Just you go and see if Rotten Tomatoes doesn’t agree with me on this.

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About jared

Jared Garrett works as a writer, the manager of a program development department in the corporate world, and an instructional designer. He is a family man with an adorable, fun, and way-too-smart wife, six silly kids, a new house with an overgrown back yard, seven fish, and a bunch of chickens. He has written fiction, user manuals, SEO copy, radio scripts and textbooks and has won first place in the Mayhew writing contest at BYU and received honorable mention in the Writers of the Future contest. He lives at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains and is currently seeking representation for his myriad completed novels.
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