17 February 2012

This Means War

Tom Hardy, left, Reese Witherspoon, center, and Chris Pine are shown in a scene from "This Means War."
"This Means War" must have been an easy sell.

Reese Witherspoon, a romantic comedy veteran who also is an accomplished, award-winning actress, is at its center.

The two leads are rising stars: Chris Pine of "Star Trek" (2009) fame, and Tom Hardy, who appeared in the blockbuster "Inception," gave acclaimed performances in "Bronson" and "Warrior," and is set to be the villain in the next Batman movie, this summer's "The Dark Knight Rises."

The director, McG ("Charlie's Angels"), has had success with this kind of slickly made action-comedy.

And the premise, pure fantasy though it may be, bursts with potential.

Early on, screenwriters Timothy Dowling ("Role Models") and Simon Kinberg ("Mr. and Mrs. Smith") struggle with the contrived nature of the scenario—CIA agents/best friends FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) date the same woman, Lauren (Witherspoon), though she is unaware they know each other. (FDR and Lauren meet in a video store. Do those still exist? Funny that I had to stretch my suspension of disbelief the farthest for that plot point.)

McG can't quite grasp it either. The opening scenes lack rhythm, and interactions between characters feel forced and awkward.

But once the pieces are in their proper places, the actors shine through, and the movie coasts along largely on their appeal.

Lauren is a little underdeveloped and mostly reacts to FDR, Tuck and her best friend, Trish (a raunchy Chelsea Handler). She is more of an idea than a character, and Witherspoon's job is to be charming and attractive enough to drive a wedge between two lifelong friends. She succeeds, which makes you wonder why Lauren is so unlucky in love that Trish must create an outrageous profile for her on an online dating website.

Tuck, a single father who entertains the notion of reuniting with his ex (Abigail Spencer) before meeting Lauren, is a sensitive type. His idea of a date is playing carnival games and swinging from a trapeze. FDR fancies himself a player and prefers to take Lauren to the trendiest of trendy nightclubs.

It starts as a friendly competition, with a "gentlemen's agreement," between Tuck and FDR. Each man assembles a CIA team to perform background checks, and install video and audio surveillance in Lauren's home and to keep tabs on the other's courtship. The contest escalates until reaching the level of outright sabotage.

The movie's heart comes from Tuck and FDR's friendship, brought to life by the bromantic chemistry between Pine, putting his sharp comic timing to good use while pulling off a cocky schtick similar to the one he played as Capt. Kirk, and Hardy, stretching himself from his typical tough-guy roles (this is a real revelation if you've seen him in "Bronson").

The writers gloss over very serious constitutional issues, the action scenes are ridiculously over the top and I'm sure the depiction of the CIA has no connection to reality. If you can accept all that, there is a lot of funny stuff here—Tuck's scary dominance in a game of paintball is one of the funnier scenes in recent memory.

I suppose you could call this a "romantic action comedy," with the emphasis on the comedy.

Greg’s Grade: B

(Rated PG-13 for sexual content including references, some violence and action, and for language. 98 minutes.)

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