Reviewed by GREG KING
Stars: Reese Witherspoon, Tom Hardy, Chris Pine, Til Scwheiger, Chelsea Handler, Angela Bassett, Jenny Slate, Abigail Spencer.
This is a moderately entertaining romantic comedy about two CIA spies who discover they are dating the same woman, and then use the full resources of the agency to spy on each other and undermine their budding relationship. This Means War is a standard chick flick with the added bonus of testosterone-fuelled action with car chases, explosions and a couple of shoot-outs that will also appeal to males.
Tuck (Tom Hardy) and Foster (Chris Pine from the Star Trek reboot, etc) are two CIA agents and best buddies. But they find themselves unceremoniously desk bound and bored to distraction after they spectacularly blow a covert mission in Hong Kong. Foster suggests that the divorced Tuck get back in the dating game by joining an on-line dating service. Which is how Tuck meets Lauren (Reese Witherspoon), a consumer products tester, and is attracted to her.
Foster later meets Lauren in a video store, but she dismisses him after a discussion over the merits of Hitchcock’s films. But she runs into him again on the street and uses him to avoid an embarrassing encounter with a former flame. The pair realises that they are attracted to each other.
But then Tuck and Foster begin to compare notes on their relationships, which is when they discover they are interested in the same woman. Foster and Tuck make an uneasy gentleman’s agreement, but proceed to compare notes on their dates and spy on each other. Which is when the (alleged) fun begins.
Lauren is also facing a dilemma as she realises that she likes both men. Her happily married sister and confidante Trish (stand-up comic Chelsea Handler, from Chelsea Lively, etc) gives her plenty of helpful advice, and her forthright raunchy dialogue is often quite funny. But in the end Lauren decides that the only way to choose between the two is to sleep with them, a move that will have feminists everywhere shaking their heads.
And there is also the dangerous spy Heinrich (Til Schweiger), whose quest for revenge against our two heroes throws a further spanner in the works.
It takes a huge suspension of disbelief to take in the silly premise from actor turned writer Timothy Dowling (Role Models, Just Go With It, etc) and Simon Kinberg (the recent Sherlock Holmes, etc). Kinberg previously wrote the action comedy Mrs & Mrs Smith, which bears a few similarities with This Means War.
The director is Joseph McGinty Nichol, who goes by the alias McG (Charlie’s Angels, Terminator Salvation, etc), and he brings his usual lack of subtlety to the material. The two key action sequences that bookend the romantic comedy are clumsily handled with the typical choppy editing style that renders them all but incomprehensible.
Witherspoon is too intelligent an actress to take this silly material too seriously and she throws herself into it with abandon. However, her role here shows that the good solid dramatic roles are just about drying up for her. Hardy (from the bruising Bronson, Warrior, Inception, etc) normally has an intense physical presence, and he seems uncomfortable with the demands of light comedy. Apparently his role was originally intended for Sam Worthington, who may have been a better fit. Pine seems more comfortable with his role as the cocky womaniser. But Hardy and Pine are attractive leads, and they develop an obvious chemistry that elevates the patently silly material.
However, the whole concept of two men trying to outwit each other in order to win over an attractive girl was previously done with much more humour and appeal in 1988’s superb Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. McG apparently filmed multiple endings, but has settled on this compromise that ends the film on a happy but vaguely unsatisfying note.
This Means War is a perfectly disposable popcorn movie and is being released in cinemas on Valentine’s Day. It may not be the best date movie around (that would probably be The Vow), but it certainly has broader appeal, as male audiences will enjoy the macho posturing of Hardy and Pine.