Being in the CIA is serious business…until emotions get in the way. Then it just gets downright ridiculous. And a partnership-friendship jeopardized by love for the same woman? The emotions get overwhelming enough to take grown men back into their boyhood days. Luckily, if these silly antics and tremendous eye candy in the form of gunplay, explosions, hip bachelor pads, and attractive men in suits equate to your idea of fun, you may fall in love with This Means War, which proudly puts all of these treats on display, along with some points and discussions about the dynamics of modern dating and relationships to put the “romantic” in “romantic comedy.”
The McG directed flick turns the tired genre up a notch by incorporating a suave spy storyline and stylish action sequences to match. We meet CIA operatives FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy) on a mission in Hong Kong where they must stop an international criminal Heinrich (Til Schweiger) from obtaining weapons of mass destruction. The mission gets interrupted and then we start to get a sense of the two men back at the HQ in Los Angeles, as best friends who’ve been through it all and single men who have to keep a tight lid on their true occupations. The woman who comes into the picture is as random as can be: Lauren Scott (Reese Witherspoon), a product researcher looking to date again after the engagement of her ex-boyfriend. She meets Tuck after finding him on an online dating site and agrees to date FDR after meeting him by chance and being aggressively wooed by him, unaware that the two men are bros in the CIA. She looks to her best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler) about juggling two guys and with Trish being an unapologetic enabler, Lauren makes the best of it. However, this doesn’t bode well for FDR and Tuck, who use their high-powered occupations to sabotage each other in order to win her affections.
Sound incredibly lame? It really is. In real life, if a man had to sneak into a woman’s house to scan through her stuff and tap into her every conversation and interaction with a human being to find out every detail about her, that would be the absolute worst and most outrageous invasion of privacy. Furthermore, I would be horrified if I found out a man I was dating was lying about volunteering at dog shelters or being knowledgeable about fine art just to impress me, which FDR demonstrates in a couple of the film’s most uproarious scenes, thus dumbing down the seriousness of the actual moral crimes. Actually, the film itself is a moral crime, because why should love or what you think is love ever come between any friendship anyway?
All societal rage aside, This Means War is still a disjointed and rushed film despite its two-hour running time. Moreover, the romances made to be believable between Lauren/FDR and Lauren/Tuck (Moreso the first pairing) are rather empty. Witherspoon is just fine playing the harmless and pleasant all-American sweetheart, yet when paired with the polite but intense Brit played by Hardy or the relentless ladies’ man played by Pine, opposites are merely opposites. She is better-suited to play one of the guys’ sisters, not their object of desire. But maybe that just makes the scenes between FDR/Tuck and Lauren/Trish so much more enjoyable, and it is in these relationships where there is a spark, an actual heart in an otherwise shallow movie. As juvenile as their schemes are and as unbelievable as the lengths to go to are, FDR and Tuck are a joy to watch together, in all their tension and when they’re teaming up against the actual bad guys. And when they have their heart-to-heart moments, you really feel their sense of closeness and comfort with each other. But while the bromance outshines the romances, ladies may see themselves in how Lauren and Trish interact. Lauren takes a somewhat demeaning (FDR has girl hands? Tuck is British?) but rational pro-and-con approach to sizing up the two men while the wildly inappropriate Trish understands, yet is much more carefree and simply encourages Lauren to enjoy her freedom to date. Handler in this film is as outlandish as Handler is in real life, but her character shows a softer side towards the end, and ultimately gives the advice most relevant to a lot of females’ dating lives: “Don’t choose the better guy; choose the guy that will make you the better girl.” At the end, you’d wish that FDR and Tuck would have been the ones to be together while Lauren and Trish kept on—and I say that purely based on the cast/character chemistry.
This Means War may be lacking in quite a few departments, but somehow the blend of cartoonish humor and cool action, along with Pine and Hardy’s performances and chemistry, makes it work. It doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not and if you’re looking for a film that doesn’t take itself seriously, you may find it can be quite fun. Oh, except in the realm of paintball: Tom Hardy doesn’t play games there.