The creative team behind spy comedy This Means War might need to take a leaf out of the most recent Mission: Impossible’s book and initiate ‘Ghost Protocol’; they’ll no doubt need to drop off the grid and lay low in the weeks following the flick’s release to hide from the annoyed moviegoers looking for a refund, if not murderous revenge. It’s a credit, then, to the effervescent charm of stars Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, and Tom Hardy that viewers might find their blood-lust subdued. Still, not even their innate magnetism, comic timing, and outrageous gorgeousness can make this 14-year-old screenplay seem fresh, nor can the execution be willed into excellence by the hypnotic blueness of their eyes. Director Joseph McGinty Nichol (or McG, as we know and love him) should consider himself lucky that the final product is at least somewhat watchable, and hasn’t totally self-destructed in his face.
Pine and Hardy star as U.S. secret agents (and BFFs, and potential romantic soul-mates) FDR and Tuck. The duo has no time for ladies, what with their busy schedule of fighting Eastern European terrorists and bro-ing out together. But Tuck – the more sensitive of the two – yearns for a woman’s touch; something that the misogynistic FDR just can’t provide. He signs up to an online dating site, and happens upon the profile of unlucky-in-love Lauren (Witherspoon). She agrees to meet him for lunch, and they hit it off immediately. However, Lauren’s innocent first date with Tuck is coincidentally followed by an antagonistic meet-cute with FDR at a nearby video store (where, in the film’s biggest leap in logic, they both try to grab that terrible remake of The Vanishing).
Several dates later, the boys realise they’re wooing the same woman. Though a little flustered, they agree to continue their courtship, and promise to stand aside politely when Lauren finally makes her choice between the two. Their gentleman’s agreement does not last long at all, and soon they’re employing all kinds of covert tricks to knock the other fellow out of contention. This includes everything from breaking into and bugging Lauren’s house so they might study her – thank you Patriot Act – to tranquilising one another and delaying any potential hot and heavy under-the-covers action. Meanwhile, totally unsuspecting good girl Lauren is struggling to come to terms with the concept of dating two guys at once, for which her crass older sister Trish (Chelsea Handler) is wildly jealous. The audience, however, is not once jealous of anyone in the film for spending this much time with Handler, whose venomous lines are unceasingly screeched at poor Witherspoon. Trish seems to be the picture’s sexual conscience, and that is indeed terrifying.
Credited screenwriters Simon Kinberg and Timothy Dowling are only two of the chefs responsible for spoiling the broth; there are reports of at least five other writers working on drafts. In the script’s 14-year existence, actors as diverse as Martin Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Seth Rogen, Justin Timberlake and Sam Worthington have all been attached to star. We should be thankful, I suppose, that genuinely appealing and not-yet-overexposed rising stars Chris Pine and Tom Hardy scored the lead roles (particularly Hardy, who gets to play ‘adorable’, which is a far cry from his work in Bronson, Warrior, and, we presume, The Dark Knight Rises). But inventive casting does not make up for uninspired filmmaking.
Let it be noted that McG is responsible for at least one fun, frothy film about sexy spies trying to balance their love-lives with the demands of saving the world from destruction: Charlie’s Angels. Disappointingly, he was unable to replicate the magic in the sequel, and the same can be said for This Means War. So long as it was nice to look at, occasionally thrilling, and provided consistent laughs, it would be an achievement (no one is expecting Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy here). It fails on all three fronts. Allow me to break each element down, lazily, and elaborate (if the film isn’t going to work hard, then neither am I).
Looks: Despite the stars’ prettiness, the picture itself has a cheap, green-screen veneer throughout. Also, the composition of conversational sequences feels stagey, as if McG isn’t quite sure how to depict people merely having a chat without something blowing up behind them. Thrills: The antagonist (Til Schweiger) is one of the least threatening in recent memory, and is totally uninvolved in the narrative’s momentum. A mid-movie paintball match provides an adrenaline-infused high point, but, unsurprisingly, it has little to do with the plot. Laughs: Witherspoon, Pine and Hardy gamely deliver the “jokes”, but they’re not quite punchy enough (and oft drowned out by Handler’s aggressively unpleasant diatribes about sexual politics and her terrible marriage). A film with this solid a trio of performers and this ripe a premise shouldn’t have to work so hard for such little reward.
This Means War arrives in Australian cinemas February 14, 2012.