A film review by Craig J. Koban February 25, 2012



2012, PG-13, 97 mins.


Lauren: Reese Witherspoon / FDR Foster: Chris Pine / Tuck: Tom Hardy / Heinrich: Til Schweiger / Collins:  Angela Bassett / Trish: Chelsea Handler

Directed by McG / Written by Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg.

THIS MEANS WAR is a unholy type of incoherently stupid, synthetically made, and insipidly rendered triple threat dud: it’s a romance film that neither has any tangible romance or chemistry between all of the leads involved; it’s a wacky and madcap comedy that contains not a scintilla of laughs; and finally it’s an action-thriller that lacks any semblance of tension and has sequences so tediously histrionic and inelegantly edited that they numb you into weeping submission.  The script for THIS MEANS WAR has apparently been making the rounds for well over a decade, but the final result here speaks volumes. There’s a reason so many Hollywood leading men turned down this film over the years and it's because it feels so horribly antiquated and stunningly witless.

THIS MEANS WAR also commits one unpardonable sin when it comes to romcoms: it made me hate all of its selfish and mean-spirited characters.  The lone female and two male characters trapped within this film’s nauseatingly infantile love triangle are, at face value, quite intolerable.  Here’s a film where adults well into their thirties go to deplorable levels to win over each other’s loving affections.  The two men are CIA agents that engage in a battle of wits as to which one will have what it takes to win over the woman and, in the process, use the full surveillance arsenal of the Federal Government to spy on the woman’s every single move.  My…how romantic!   The woman may seem like a hapless victim, but she too does not fare much better: she decides to cruelly date both men behind their respective backs (she thinks that they are both oblivious to each other) and procrastinates as to which one she should choose.  Her end-game is to sleep with both and then make up her mind. 

If this is someone’s idea of romance for a Valentine’s Day movie release, then I want no part of it.  I would barely accept this type of behavior in young high school adolescents, but in this film’s phony universe it’s committed by adults, which is supposed to make it uproarious.  Uh…no. 

Captain Kirk-redux, Chris Pine, plays FDR (hey, just like the former President…how riotous!) and his BFF Tuck (Tom Hardy) are two of the most skilled and top-ranking elite agents of the CIA that have a history of completing missions in the least clandestine manner possible, much to the consternation of their boss (played by Angela Bassett, a long way from her Oscar winning glory here).  These guys are so close and do so much together that, to any suspicious eye, they could be gay lovers, but never mind.  Tuck is a recently divorced dad that is looking for love and – wouldn’t you know it – FDR begins to contemplate finding a soul mate as well.  They both decide to try their luck on an online dating service, because in this film’s twisted and false reality guys that look like Pine and Hardy have a really difficult time scoring with babes.  Uh-huh.



Tuck does manage to secure a date with a fellow lady that uses the same site, Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) a career minded efficiency product analyzer for a Consumer Reports-like group (gee, I wonder if that woefully specific job title will factor latter in the film during a convenient time?).  Lauren, alas, suffers the same fate as Tuck and FDR: she’s limitlessly attractive, but is so dang unlucky with members of the opposite sex.  Uh-huh.  The first date that Tuck and Lauren go on is a success, but on her way home she brushes paths with FDR.  After some flirtatious banter between them and a few other awkward meet-and-greets, Lauren decides to go out with FDR, despite the fact that she really likes Tuck and wants to commit to him.  Within no time, Tuck and FDR realize that they are dating the same woman, so they form a series of special ground rules to see who will prevail and win her heart.  Lauren, at the same time, has the thorny dilemma of deciding which one of her suitors will be a better lay. 

I’m nearly vomiting in my mouth just thinking about this movie’s cockamamie and vile premise.  It’s just so borderline creepy that it gets in the way of me growing to like these people.  Consider the actions of Tuck and FDR, who amazingly are able to commandeer the CIA’s finest men - without their boss ever knowing - and are able to use multi-million dollar surveillance equipment to invade Lauren’s privacy 24/7 and, in turn, hopefully sabotage the other’s courtship efforts.  There’s just something wholly unsavory about grown men eavesdropping like Peeping Toms at a woman without her consent, not to mention that it’s a gross and illegal invasion of Lauren’s privacy.   

Now, the script could have made Lauren an unfortunate casualty of such heinous actions here, but it decides to make her a pitiless figure as well.   Lauren takes advice from her friend (played to rather obnoxiously self-indulgent levels by Chelsea Handler) that’s one of those age-old movie gal friends who seems to exist in this film to provide unethical guidance to Lauren and crack endless scatological quips for the amusement of the viewers.  Seriously, I do think that Handler and Witherspoon are smart individuals in real life with good heads on their shoulders, but am I really expected to buy them playing these shrill and conniving women?  Do real women of this age give each other advice to date multiple men at the same time and have sex with both to see which one is more worthy? 

The chemistry between Witherspoon, Hardy, and Pine is so empty that they all should have had “vacant” signs hanging off of their foreheads in scenes with one another.  Oddly enough, Pine seems to bring  – dare I say it – a William Shatner-ian eye for goofy mischief here, but even he’s too good of an actor for this film’s dumb shenanigans.  Witherspoon – remember that she’s an Oscar winning actress! – pathetically plays the object of the men’s collective affection as if she had the mindset of an overly anxious and sexually unsure 14-year-old, which hints at more than a bit of sexism.  Tom Hardy (one of our finest emerging acting talents) was such a brute force of nature in films like WARRIOR and BRONSON that he seems horrendously miscast playing a romantic suitor that has to engage in zany physical sight gags and scenes of sitcom contrivances; Hardy is an explosively feral and empowered performer, but his skillet does not lend itself to this type of material. 

Ultimately, I just wished for a terrorist to show up and threaten to take the very lives of these characters and make good on his goal…oh…wait…the film does desperately insert such a character into the love triangle madness in the form of an arms dealer (INGLOURIOUS BASTERD’s Til Schweiger), but he only shows up as a manner of bringing FDR, Tuck, and Lauren together to confront their indiscretions, which culminates in matters altogether artificial and moronic.  THIS MEANS WAR was directed with maximum big screen soullessness by McG, who made me detest him for his earlier – and equally soulless – CHARLIE’S ANGELS films, but then made me reconsider his worth with the decent WE ARE MARSHALL and the terrible underrated TERMINATOR: SALVATION.  Let’s just say that with THIS MEANS WAR McG has returned to his roots by making a film that has no reason for existing other that to humiliate its three main stars at every turn.   

How romantic, indeed.

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