This Means War is like plummeting to your death but pushing that thought out of your head and trying to enjoy the free fall. You know it’s going to end badly, you shouldn’t be enjoying this, but there’s a silver lining in the exhilaration. You have to embrace the charming lead performances in McG‘s action-rom-com in order to take your mind off their completely loathsome characters and the story’s gaping plot holes. It is a master class is why movie stars are movie stars, and how the best of them can let you have breezy fun until you splatter on the sidewalk.
Tuck (Tom Hardy) and FDR (Chris Pine) are best friends and partners in the CIA*. Tuck is the romantic who’s trying to find love while FDR is the playboy. Meanwhile, Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) is having a trouble finding a serious relationship after a bad break-up with her handsome boyfriend. When her sister Trish (Chelsea Handler) posts a profile for Lauren on a dating website**, Tuck finds her profile and asks her out on a date with FDR waiting in a nearby video store in case his friend needs extraction. After the date goes well, Lauren goes to the video store, runs into FDR (who doesn’t know what she looks like), he pursues her, and eventually she ends up dating both guys. When they discover that they’re both dating her, they compete for Lauren’s affections by spying on her and undermining each other with spy tactics.
Tuck, FDR, and Lauren are sad, creepy, and deeply insecure people. Tuck and FDR are supposed to be hunting down a terrorist (Til Schweiger), but instead they marshal separate teams of CIA flunkies to help spy on Lauren. They plant cameras in her apartment, do full background checks, and basically monitor everything she does so they can one-up each other. Furthermore, they know she’s cheating on them and it doesn’t bother Tuck or FDR. She’s a prize and one who’s easily duped by guys who seem to know her better than she knows herself.
Some of the film’s set pieces look like they were shot by a high-school student with too much money (the opening set piece is shockingly terrible) and then there are moments that perfectly blend the action and the comedy (there’s a great scene involving paintball and helpless children), but it always feels like a brief reprieve from the characters’ personalities. In a way, it’s a throwback to Charlie’s Angels in that it features likeable actors in an airheaded action movie. The only difference is that the heroes in Charlie’s Angels don’t have characters you want to throw into the world’s largest meat grinder. Hardy, Pine, and Witherspoon create a shield of charm and winning personalities, and the film would be stomach-churning without them. The three actors turn what could almost be a dark comedy into a light-hearted romp. Witherspoon regains the sweetheart attitude she hasn’t had since Legally Blond, and Pine walks in, flashes a big smile, and makes everyone in the audience want to have sex with him. But Hardy is the reason to see this movie. Not known for his comic talents, Hardy is absolutely adorable as a sweet, bashful guy inside the body of someone who could break every bone in your body.
It’s a fun ride down, but eventually you have to go kersplat. We know that Lauren won’t reject both guys, and whomever she chooses will have still invaded her privacy and lied to a sickening degree. The story also remembers, “Oh, right. We threw in this pointless antagonist,” and has to force him back into the story. The winning smiles of ten million movie stars couldn’t stop us from ultimately seeing these characters for the pathetic human beings that they are. Remarkably, when they’re “honest”, their actions are even worse. This Means War is a whirlwind romance until the crazy bomb explodes and you have no choice but to see these horrible people for the monsters they are. On the upside, your date will probably look far better by comparison.
*Or the CIA in name only. The credits list a “CIA Technical Advisor” and I assume his job was to say, “Yeah, our emblem looks like that,” and then he collected a paycheck, maybe a fruit basket, and then went home. You’ll sit through the film wondering why they didn’t just come up with a fake spy agency like Archer‘s I.S.I.S.
**The film is a date movie that mocks online dating, which would have worked about ten years ago. Today, most people know someone who found a worthwhile relationship through online dating. It’s always a good thing to alienate people by telling them that their date is probably a murderer.