For the sum of its parts, This Means War is likely to work as a middle-of-the-road guilty pleasure experience that can satisfy a diverse range of filmgoers.
For many moviegoers, the combination of Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) and Chris Pine (Star Trek) in the role of CIA operative partners (or, to the outside world, travel agent and cruise ship captain, respectively) would, in another film, be a recipe for hard-hitting action full of witty tongue-in-cheek charm. However, in director McG's latest film offering, action is only one part of the equation. The rest? Sex, romance, and plenty of "did she really say that" one-liners from Chelsea Handler.
As a result, does the spy versus spy action-romcom, This Means War present enough witty romance set-ups, exciting action sequences, and cathartic comedy moments to offer a moviegoing experience that anyone can enjoy?
Despite a solid cast of especially charismatic leads including Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, and Tom Hardy, there's no doubt that McG has a pretty mixed pedigree - even when he's working with top-tier talent (just look at Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle). That said, the director has successfully paired solid action offerings with campy comedy moments in the past (as in the original Charlie's Angels movie) - so it's not entirely a surprise that given the rich set up and a trio of charming headliners, McG actually delivers an entertaining, albeit flawed and predictable film that will appeal to a wider audience than the normal romance flick crowd.
As mentioned, the success of the film is due in large part to the core storyline - which pits best friends (and CIA operative partners) FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) against one another for the affections of the same girl, Lauren (Witherspoon). On duty, the pair are lethal killing machines, but while off duty, FDR is a brash and reckless playboy who hunts for potential hook-ups by faking chance encounters with lonely girls in a video rental store - while Tuck, who hasn't dated in years, takes to a Match.com-like website to find the love of his life. The set up is pretty basic, but as the rivalry between the men escalates and the pair begin to utilize their spy training (as well as CIA resources) to get a leg up on the other, there's no shortage of entertaining moments. A side story featuring bad guy, Heinrich (Til Schweiger), who carries out a vendetta against the pair, is mostly an afterthought to all of the crazy dating hijinks, stuffed in for a bit more action, but the through-line ultimately works and doesn't overstay its welcome.
That said, savvy moviegoers will easily be able to anticipate all of the converging story lines in the third act - and should have no problem predicting exactly how events will play out. In general, the various characters in This Means War are too familiar - and, much like a puzzle you've put together on more than one occasion, it's nearly impossible to avoid the obvious way in which all these pieces will ultimately interconnect. The familiarity doesn't take away from the film's entertaining banter between characters, silly covert date sabotaging, or adequate action offerings - but will make it difficult to believe that when it comes to Lauren's affections, Tuck and FDR are actually working on a level playing field.
One of the film's greatest strengths is the dynamic between the two leading men (as well as how Witherspoon plays off of the potential suitors). Hardy and Pine, who've both shown a knack in prior films for balancing charm with tough-guy muscle, have great chemistry - resulting in an entertaining rivalry that also allows for some genuinely kick-butt action beats. That said, at its core, This Means War is a romantic comedy - which means that action-lovers who are expecting something along the lines of the light-hearted but still explosive Mr. & Mrs. Smith might find McG's spy film to be over-stuffed with goofy melodrama to the detriment of the spy storyline. This isn't really a fault of the film itself, but based on the movie's Bad Boys-like marketing campaign, there's likely to be more than a few moviegoers who are underwhelmed by the ratio of action to romance.
Whereas the Pine and Hardy storyline will make the film serviceable for audiences who are less impressed with movies like The Vow, the banter between Witherspoon and Chelsea Handler (who plays Lauren's best friend) keep things from getting too serious - and, for the most part, the combination actually results in a film that captures workable aspects of all the genres at play. While it's hard to say that This Means War utilizes the "best" action, comedy, and romance tropes, the resulting mash-up succeeds at finding a middle ground that, while not particularly innovative or intelligent, can be pretty entertaining at times.
This Means War is an extremely "familiar" experience, both in terms of how the plot plays-out as well as the scene-to-scene gags, but for anyone who can accept the film's romantic-comedy core McG has successfully delivered an entertaining genre mash-up. It's not the most realistic spy film, or the most outrageous comedy, or the most tear-enducing romance; however, for the sum of its parts, This Means War is likely to work as a middle-of-the-road guilty pleasure experience that can satisfy a diverse range of filmgoers.
If you’re still on the fence about This Means War, check out the trailer below:
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick - and let us know what you thought of the film below.
This Means War is rated PG-13 for some sexual content. Now playing in theaters.
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