© 2012 Ray Wong
A action-packed romantic comedy about spies? That's not a new idea. There was a funny flick called Mr. & Mrs. Smith, and before that was a gem called True Lies. Ideas are a dime a dozen, of course, and it's all in the writing and execution. This Means War fails on that front.
FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy) are two field FBI agents who, after a botched operation in Hong Kong, are demoted to the "office" until they can locate a criminal named Heinrich (Til Schweiger). Tuck, while divorced, decides to check out a dating site. Meanwhile, single and miserable Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) is convinced by her best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler) to check out the same dating site. Lauren is instantly attracted to Tuck, and they decide to meet for a date.
Nervous about the prospect, Tuck asks FDR to help bail him out if the date goes sour. Fortunately, Tuck and Lauren hit it off immediately. And unfortunately for Tuck, after their date Lauren also bumps into FDR, who (without knowing she is Tuck's date) pursues immediately. When Tuck and FDR realizes they're dating the same woman, they vow to compete "like two gentlemen." Of course, as the dating game progresses, there's nothing "gentlemanly" as the two best friends break all the rules to beat each other.
Reese Witherspoon (Water for Elephant) has had some misfires lately, and was sorely miscast in Water for Elephant. Here, she fits the role rather nicely, but I can't help but wonder if the role is miswritten. Her character simply stands out like a sore thumb in this otherwise funny buddy movie.
The guys have a much better time being best friends/rivals and savvy spies. Chris Pine (Unstoppable) is slick and charming as the player who falls for a regular girl (more on that later). Pine has enough cockiness and charisma to pull that off. Tom Hardy (Warrior) tries his hands in comedy with good results. As the earnest-to-a-fault divorced father, Hardy is cool and stoic, a great contrast to Pine. And the two actors share some impressive chemistry.
And that may be the problem. Written by Timothy Dowling (Role Models) and Simon Kinberg (Sherlock Holmes), the story is pretty dark good as a bromance. The two leading male characters and friendship/rivalry are developed. They are believable, and their relationship makes sense. And the action fits that plot very well. However, the romance throws the whole thing off balance. The character of Lauren is underwritten, and the situations and romance between her and the two men are contrived and forced. I am left with the confusion why these two men are so hung up on her (what's so special about her?) and would risk their friendship for her. The conceit is that these two men compete just for competition's sake… but I'm not convinced.
The problem is that the character development is heavy on the guys, but the plot is heavy on the guy-girl-guy love triangle, which happens to be the weakest part. We spend much of the movie with them trying to outsmart each other while wooing Lauren, but the relationships with Lauren are poorly developed -- they feel like plot device instead of real relationships. You have a feeling that men wrote the screenplay… ah, well, two guys did write it.
McG (Terminator Salvation) took a much needed break after his last disaster, and he chose wisely with such a light-hearted romantic action-comedy. His direction is nicely paced and slick, and the film is well produced. Surely there is some cheese and typical action sequences that are outrageous but still fun to watch. It is during the romantic scenes that McG seems to be somewhat lost. He can't rise above the material.
This Means War is entertaining, of course. That's the point, isn't it? Still, given the weak writing and the weak relationships between the female and male leads (and it's a romantic comedy), we realize how important character development is. What made Mr & Mrs. Smith or True Lies great wasn't that they were action-packed romantic comedies, but they had great characters and realistic relationships. Not quite here. And that means FAIL.
Stars: Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, Til Schweiger, Chelsea Handler
Writers: Timothy Dowling, Simon Kinberg
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox
MPAA Rating: R for some sexual content
Running Time: 98 minutes
Script - 6
Performance - 7
Direction - 6
Cinematography - 7
Music/Sound - 7
Editing - 7
Production - 7
Total - 6.7 out of 10.0