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"THIS MEANS WAR"
(2012) (Tom Hardy, Chris Pine) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Action-Comedy: Two CIA agents put their friendship aside as they battle for the affections of a woman who's dating both of them but is unaware of their connection.
PLOT:
FDR (CHRIS PINE) and Tuck (TOM HARDY) are two covert CIA agents who work in a field office in Los Angeles and have been after a criminal, Heinrich (TIL SCHWEIGER). When not working, FDR is a ladies' man not looking for any sort of commitment, while Tuck is the divorced father of a young boy and is just starting to think about returning to the dating world. Accordingly, Tuck tries his hand at online dating and ends up matched with Lauren (REESE WITHERSPOON), a consumer product tester/researcher whose profile was placed by her sex-obsessed best friend, Trish (CHELSEA HANDLER).

Lauren isn't happy she did that, but doesn't mind meeting the handsome Tuck, although her reaction isn't initially the same about FDR who she accidentally bumps into later. But he's instantly attracted to her, a troubling development for the men and their friendship when they realize they're interested in the same woman. Setting a number of ground rules (including not sleeping with her until she chooses between them) about how to deal with this, they leave it up to her to decide.

The only problem is she can't, and thus goes on a number of dates with both men, unaware of their real jobs or even that they know each other. As they separately use their agency resources to learn about and thus try to impress Lauren, FDR and Tuck risk their friendship and working partnership as things escalate in their efforts.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
People go to movies for any number of reasons and with a potential variety of expectations regarding what they're about to see. Some wish to be challenged by the experience and witness something that opens their eyes, minds and/or maybe alters their perception or take on some part of their world. Others want to live some sort of life vicariously through the characters and storyline, although this isn't as common nowadays with the Internet and cable TV options offering much of the same that was once only available in the movies.

For others, they're simply looking for diversionary escapism. You know, the type that works as a great, if only temporary antidote to whatever ails one from the drudgery and irritations that often come about from work, home or school. Simply put, some people want to spend 90 to 120 minutes with their higher functioning brains turned off and let the reptilian parts have fun reacting to what's thrown up on the screen.

The failure of disengaging the cerebral cortex is part, but certainly not all of what bedevils, "This Means War," a romantic action comedy flick designed as mindless entertainment, with enough promised eye candy, action, comedy and sex to fix, if only briefly, one's mediocre to bad day. Yes, the three stars are nice to look at, and there's plenty of comedic style banter, action and some steam up the glass moments in which one could "escape."

What's perplexing about the flick, then, is why one's brain ends up asking so many questions during the film's 100-some minute runtime. And no, that doesn't pertain to the built-in question of which guy (Chris Pine or Tom Hardy) will end up getting the girl (Reese Witherspoon) in the end. Instead, it's what sort of alternate universe do their characters work and live in that they can afford the trappings in which they exist.

Considering the top-end of government salaries, it's fairly hard to believe that Pine and Hardy's CIA agent characters could afford the places in which they separately reside, especially in the high rent district of Los Angeles. These are the lifestyles that only exist in the movies, including one's bachelor pad that includes -- and I'm not making this up -- a ceiling that inexplicably consists of the transparent underside of a lap pool that allows him unique viewpoints of bikini-clad lasses gliding and stroking along above him.

Yes, this is a fantasy piece, but it's a male-dominated one at that where two best buds (and partners at work) live in such "cribs" as they continually escalate their attempts to one-up the other in terms of winning the affections of (and bed rights to) a very attractive woman who isn't dating anyone, much to the chagrin of her sex-obsessed best friend (Chelsea Handler).

While Witherspoon's character is apparently quite good at testing and examining the quality of consumer goods for her job (all of which means she has a really nice place as well), those skills don't translate into the ability to pick out the best guys. Accordingly, and fairly unbelievably, she ends up dating but unable to choose between Pine and Hardy's CIA agent characters. The script doesn't waste any time letting the dudes come to realize they're after the same woman, supposedly to allow for more time to allow them to use all of their resources to gather intel on her and thus compete for her.

They do most of that by convincing their cohorts that their investigation of her is tied to a villain (Til Schweiger) they're after. He's one of those typical movie bad guys who's present mainly to demand some shoot-outs, fistfights, car chases and making certain things go boom. But he's present really only as bookends to the rom-com that fills the rest of the flick, unlike the slightly similar "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" that got so much more of the material right.

Had the film and its story actually engaged yours truly, I might have had a Calgon moment and thus not ended up distracted by such details. Alas, director McG once again over-directs this misguided effort (much like he did in the "Charlie's Angels" films, but at least they had a certain panache about them), and the script by Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg won't go down in anyone's book in terms of writing comedic and/or sexual banter.

Actually, I need to clarify that last statement, as it will be a prime example of what doesn't work and should be avoided at all costs. It also doesn't help that the filmmakers, for reasons not entirely clear, decided to include audio-visual clips from films such as "Young Frankenstein" and "Titanic" in the course of what plays out. All they do is make you think of films that were funnier and more romantic, respectively, and away from his otherwise forgettable flick.

I understand how the pic was likely pitched and got made. After all, it's a prime example of the old "high concept" idea: Two CIA agents use their training and resources to battle over one woman. While the premise, if fantasy-based, had potential, the execution -- even as simple escapist entertainment -- leaves a lot to be desired and strands three charismatic performers up on the screen trying to make something of it. They don't, and this war is over long before the final battle. "This Means War" rates as a 3 out of 10.




Reviewed February 14, 2012 / Posted February 17, 2012


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