THE PITCH: It’s bromance vs. romance when CIA agents and best pals FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy) discover they’re both dating the same woman, a consumer product researcher named Lauren (Reese Witherspoon). Their “let the best man win” agreement about wooing her devolves into dirty tricks with surveillance equipment and other spy gizmos.
MONEY SHOTS: Unaware that Tuck and FDR are bugging her apartment, Lauren hip-hop dances alone, wearing a sweater and no pants. Tuck shows Lauren he’s not a “safe” guy by going Rambo on competitors at a paintball game. Before FDR and Lauren get busy, Tuck shoots him with a tranquilizer dart, and FDR glowers hilariously before passing out. Tuck and FDR’s inevitable fistfight features some decent fight choreography amid the rest of the lousy action scenes.
BEST LINE: “Why is she listening to that old man?” one of the guys wonders as Lauren chats with her best pal, played by Chelsea Handler. Handler overplays her drunken slut shtick but has a few good exchanges with Witherspoon. Lauren complains about online dating, saying, “I could end up in a skin suit! Or in somebody’s trunk!” Handler replies, “That’s so overdramatic! That’s, like, one in 20 girls!”
WORST LINE: When the guys shoot up a Hong Kong penthouse in a failed attempt to catch a vague international bad guy (Inglourious Basterds' Til Schweiger), their spy boss (Angela Bassett) snaps, “This mission was supposed to be covert! Thanks to you geniuses, Heinrich will be seeking revenge for his brother’s death!” So she’s mad that they’ve hurt his feelings? Or is she nervous that their elusive quarry will come to them?
LAZIEST LINE: Lauren complains about her ex-boyfriend: “Six months later, I find him in bed with a pilates instructor.” Is it me, or is “pilates instructor” the go-to profession for stealing men from movie heroines?
BODY COUNT: The opening shootout apparently leaves “six in the morgue and one on the sidewalk,” although far more international goons seemed to be killed. Otherwise there’s not a lot of killing until the finale, which mostly consists of six cars blowing up.
FLESH FACTOR: Pine appears shirtless and Hardy displays his Popeye-size forearms, but Witherspoon shows the most skin thanks to plenty of short dresses and skirts. There’s also a brawl in a strip club featuring some dancers in relatively modest lingerie.
POP REFERENCES: Director McG frequently shows images from earlier, better movies. FDR and Lauren meet at a video store where Young Frankenstein plays in the background, and they talk extensively over where The Lady Vanishes falls in the canon of Alfred Hitchcock. We also see clips from Titanic and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
SOUNDTRACK HIGHLIGHT: McG cheekily blended pop songs and action scenes in Charlie’s Angels, but here makes some of the laziest musical choices imaginable, including “Me So Horny” for scenes with Handler, as well as Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” when the guys, you know, sabotage each other. The filmmakers must not care that “Sabotage” was prominently used in the Star Trek movie starring Pine.
HEY, WAIT A MINUTE: In that scene in the video store, I swear I saw a copy of the gritty World War II drama Enemy at the Gates in the “Comedy” section. There’s also a strange moment when FDR infiltrates one of Lauren’s focus groups and reads a newspaper with a huge headline about a horse being euthanized.
EXTRAS: The screening I attended was preceded by “Scrat’s Continental Crack-Up,” an animated short to hype the latest Ice Age movie coming out this summer. The short’s more entertaining than the actual feature.
THE BOTTOM LINE: This Means War attempts to combine the light comedy, sexy actors, and explosive set pieces of both rom-coms and action movies, but in some kind of mix-up, presents weak jokes, thin clichés, and ugly set pieces. Witherspoon and Hardy are better than the material and Pine proves blandly handsome in a Ben Affleck sort of way. Where Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt played battling spy spouses in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, FDR and Tuck’s escalating rivalry could be called Mr. and Mr. Smith.
This Means War. 2 stars. Directed by McG. Stars Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Tom Hardy. Rated PG-13. Opens Fri., Feb. 17. At area theaters.
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