Originally set to be released on Valentine’s Day, This Means War was pushed back to the Friday after to avoid competing with the demographically well received Nicholas Sparks-esque romance, The Vow. It’s probably a smart move—I imagine most people would want to see a straight up love film than a silly screwball comedy like this on Valentine’s Day—but if we’re lucky, nobody will want to see it at all and we can stop future movies like this from coming out. This Means War is hopelessly derivative, unfunny and far more boring than an espionage comedy should be.
This film stars Chris Pine and Tom Hardy as FDR and Tuck, two best friends and secret agents at the CIA. FDR is a playboy, seemingly more interested in picking up women than he is in completing his missions, and Tuck is a romantic. He has a kid and an ex-wife, but he rarely sees them and he’s lonely. He wants to fall in love. After seeing an ad on television for an online dating service, Tuck posts his profile and gets a hit from Lauren, played by Reese Witherspoon, who was forced into it by her best friend, Trish, played by Chelsea Handler. After they have a nice meeting, Tuck finds himself smitten, but immediately after, Lauren runs into FDR who woos her as well, unaware that it’s the girl Tuck had just seen. When they find out they’re both after the same girl, the competition is on and they’ll do anything to win, utilizing every spy technique in the book to sabotage each other.
This Means War has a great cast. Aside from the over-the-top and grating Chelsea Handler, the three main stars are all charming, good looking and talented. The poster alone should sell this movie. However, not all talent is created equally. Witherspoon is still as lovely as ever and Chris Pine, who showcased some great comedic talent amidst all the sci-fi shenanigans in 2009’s Star Trek, is as funny as he can possibly be with what he’s given here, but Tom Hardy is miscast. Although he has proven himself as a wonderful dramatic actor in films like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and the criminally overlooked Warrior, he is simply not funny. He isn’t a comedian and doesn’t know how to deliver comedic lines. When working with mediocre material such as this, his inexperience comes through even more noticeably.
Most films can overcome such a flaw, however, if their characters are fun to be around—jokes don’t always need to land when we’re spending time with people we like—but This Means War’s two main characters, the two battling it out for Lauren’s affection, are daft, selfish, shallow and manipulative. They spy on Lauren using advanced government technology (which would lead to all kinds of offensive invasions of privacy if this were anything other than a vacuous romantic comedy caper) and they use it to gain the upper hand. When they learn what Lauren doesn’t like about them, for instance, they change those aspects of themselves to fool her into thinking they’re someone they’re not. Their dishonesty is off-putting and by the end, you’ll hope she picks neither of them and moves on with her life.
You’d think that’s exactly what she’d do too after discovering that her feelings were the center of a crude and infantile competition, but she doesn’t and makes her choice. While I certainly wouldn’t go so far as to spoil who she picks, her decision is boneheaded for a number of reasons and doesn’t feel authentic. It feels like the choice was made only because, through an early contrived set-up, it allowed for a gushy happy ending for all the characters, even the one she toys with, doesn't choose and leaves heartbroken.
The pretentiously named McG, whose best movie is probably the first Charlie’s Angels (which certainly isn’t saying much), directed This Means War and it feels exactly like one of his films: stylish, but overblown; sometimes serious, but obnoxiously childish; fast paced, yet still amazingly boring. He has so many things to improve on, it’s hard to know where to begin in listing them. Even when compared to his previous failures, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle and Terminator Salvation, This Means War fares only slightly better, if only because it’s shorter and a bit breezier, but for every one thing it does okay, it botches five.
This Means War receives 1.5/5