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This Means War

By Philip Martin

This article was published February 17, 2012 at 3:51 a.m.


Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) finds herself susceptible to the charms of the smooth-talking Tuck (Tom Hardy) in This Means War.

— What we have here is a case of the movie as pure entertainment product, focus-grouped and beta-tested, gaudily packaged and shrink-wrapped for your protection. It’s an attempt — a largely successful one — to combine the elements of the standard romantic comedy that presumably appeals to a female demographic with a buddy-movie actioner that ought to go down well with the boyswith-toys crowd.

If that sounds like just the thing for you and your significant beloved, well, get your popcorn ready. This Means War is quite literally a meta-movie manufactured to your specs.

What it is not is any type of grown-up entertainment.

Instead, it is a depressingly cynical experience, in which people who presumably know better (especially Reese Witherspoon and Tom Hardy, who on occasion exhibited far, far finer instincts than the naked pecuniary drives displayed here) talk down to their putative audience while hitting their marks and looking fabulous.

Witherspoon, yet to regain her footing after a two-year break from acting that ended in 2010, plays Lauren Scott, a product tester for a Consumer Reports-type magazine with a sad romantic history. Her filthy-tongued friend Trish (Chelsea Handler, in a role apparently inspired by her blowsy, boozy TV talk-show persona) determines to make things better for Lauren by posting an unsubtle profile for her on an online dating site.

Half a world away, intrepid secret agents Tuck (Hardy) and FDR (Chris Pine) are trying to save the world from some Teutonic bad guy named Henrich (Til Schweiger). As usually happens in the first act, the buddies are thwarted and brought low, sent home to Los Angeles to reflect on their errors and lick their wounds.

One of the ways single dad Tuck licks his wounds is by cruising the Internet looking for a soul mate; he hits on Lauren’s page and arranges a meeting. But he takes the precaution of stationing his bromantic interest FDR nearby, just in case he needs to be “extracted.”

But the date goes swimmingly, as Tuck convinces Lauren he’s a sensitive travel agent. But on the way home she encounters FDR, and, gosh darn it, just like that she goes from not having a boyfriend to having two gentleman callers, with complementary character traits!

What she doesn’t know, of course, is that Tuck and FDR not only know each other but are co-workers and best friends. And competitors willing to divert the considerable surveillance assets and tradecraft at their disposal to sabotaging each other’s happiness (to the subtle strains of the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage”), all while trashing Lauren’s right to privacy. Whether they see her as a mere trophy or as a pearl of great price seems besides the point — it’s clear that Tuck and FDR ought to just get a room.

While there’s some smutty talk as Trish and Lauren speculate on the proclivities of her new friends, the movie is relatively chaste, probably to preserve its PG-13 rating and cast the widest demographic net possible.

Predictably enough, the bad guy re-emerges in the third act to menace Lauren and kick this already noisy movie into a sort of grating overdrive.

What’s best about the movie is the frankly crackling chemistry between Pine and Hardy, and what’s worst is Witherspoon’s alarmingly clueless reiteration of a character built of tics and gestures. Her Lauren is dismayingly like the over-the-hill softball star Witherspoon played in the 2010 flop How Do You Know? She seems to oscillate between frustrated and amorous while serving primarily as a plinth for our hyperactive spyboys to race around. I would say she deserves better, that it’s a shame how Hollywood (and America) treats its sweethearts when they reach a certain age.

But then, maybe she ought to do better as well. This Means War feels more like a business plan than a movie, and it’s difficult to imagine that any of the professionals who collaborated to produce it would ever want to watch it.

This Means War

76 Cast: Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, Reese Witherspoon, Til Schweiger, Chelsea Handler Director: McG Rating: PG-13, for sexual content and violence Running time: 97 minutes

MovieStyle, Pages 33 on 02/17/2012

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