Monday, May 21, 2012

"This Means War"-- Should Have Listened to the Critics

My taste in movies is just low-brow enough that I will frequently take a chance on a film that has been critically panned- especially if the cast is reliable enough to make me think it might be worth the time. This Means War, starring Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine and Tom Hardy, had a lineup that let me disregard the generally dismal reviews in the hope that it might end up being a good romantic comedy that only lacked critical appeal. Unfortunately choppy editing and lackluster chemistry left me feeling that even the most forgiving viewer would wish they hadn't bothered wasting their time.

FDR Foster (Chris Pine) and Tuck Henson (Tom Hardy) are best friends and CIA agents. The film opens with the two in Hong Kong as they try to prevent a man by the name of Heinrich from getting a weapon of mass destruction. The inevitable gun-fight ensues, resulting in the death of Heinrich's brother- setting the scene for the grudge-match that is sure to follow later in the film.

For their own protection the two are put on desk-duty when they get home and find themselves with an unusual amount of down-time on their hands. Tuck, divorced and lonely, decides to try his hand at online dating and stumbles across the profile of Lauren Scott (Witherspoon), a product testing executive whose best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler) was the actual author of her outrageous dating profile. After seeing Tuck's picture Lauren decides to go through with the date anyway and finds she has a nice chemistry with Tuck.

The romantic twist comes in the form of a chance encounter with FDR on the way home from her date with Tuck. Lauren and FDR meet in a video store and banter over what movies to watch. Intrigued by Lauren's ability to fend off his advances FDR uses his CIA resources to find out where Lauren works and badgers her into going on a date. Shortly after FDR and Tuck are both telling each other about the great new girl they've met when they realize they're both dating Lauren. The two then enter into a "gentleman's agreement" where they set ground rules for dating Lauren that include no sex and no interfering with each other's dates.

Early on "This Means War" seems like it might have some promise. The opening sequence is cheesy and predictable, but Witherspoon is appealing and the camaraderie between Pine and Hardy feels genuine enough to keep the movie afloat. The problems arise when it becomes clear that the script is too lightweight, even for a shallow romcom, to make any part of the story believable.

The relationship Lauren develops with both men feels rushed and unconvincing. There are a few cute moments but nothing that pops or has any genuine chemistry. The men quickly fall back on using the trickery of the CIA (curiously very available to them throughout) to spy on each other and sabotage the other's dates despite their agreement. In fact, the dates are disastrous enough to make you wonder why she'd keep dating either of them. The movie tries to alternate between action sequences and romantic comedy, but never really lands on either genre and makes the whole experience more discombobulating than enjoyable.

But if the film fails anywhere- it really tanks at the end. There's no question that Lauren will have to pick one of the men by the end of the film, and she does. The problem is that it seems like she picks the wrong one.  Clearly the script was going for a contrivance in which both men could find a woman to settle down with. The problem is that the only onscreen chemistry Witherspoon really has is with the man she doesn't pick- and even saying she has chemistry with him is a stretch because none of the relationships in the film are developed to any extent.

"This Means War" is basically a colorful mess. It's pretty. It has an attractive cast and appealing settings. There are a few explosions and even a couple of laughs. But overall it's a weakly scripted film that tries to rely on the charisma of its stars to carry it- and it just isn't enough to make it work.