In a turn of events that utterly defies the terrible trailer that’s been making the rounds for the last few months, This Means War actually proves to be an agreeably dim-witted combo of testosterone-fuelled action and an estrogen-friendly love story that smartly allows its bewitching headliners to do most of the heavy-lifting.
Charlie’s Angels director McG returns to his chick-flick-meets-everything-blows-up roots with a film that’s essentially Mr. and Mrs. Smith with a third ridiculously good-looking person thrown in to trade innuendo-laced barbs and dodge bullets. That’s not surprising, since the story comes from Simon Kinberg who wrote the film that launched one thousand Brangeloonies and Timothy Dowling, who gifted us with the underrated Paul Rudd and Sean William Scott bromance, Role Models.
The delightfully high-concept premise revolves around two CIA agents (Chris Pine and Tom Hardy) who are partners and as close as brothers. Tuck (Hardy) is a lonely, divorced Dad and against the advice of FDR (Pine), he decides to give internet dating a whirl. On his first try, he meets the plucky Lauren (Reese Witherspoon), a product tester who’s reeling from a break up and is ready to meet Mr. Right.
Later that same night, FDR unknowingly interferes with Tuck’s successful date by running into Lauren at a video store and trading chemistry-charged witticisms with her. FDR goads her into a date and soon Lauren, who still has no idea that the two men know one another, is smitten with both guys.
Tuck and FDR quickly figure out that they’re courting the same lady and vow not to let their shared pursuit ruin their friendship. That is until their innate competitive natures, not to mention their CIA training, kick in and the rules plus pacts of brotherhood are thrown straight out the window.
The two begin a bizarre game of attempting to one-up each other for Lauren’s affections by gathering intel (using government-issue surveillance devices) and redesigning themselves as her ideal man, creating elaborate dates that both thrill and confuse her, muddying her decision of who to keep and who to cut loose.
Chelsea Handler pops up in a scene-stealing supporting role as Lauren’s married and full-of-saucy-advice best friend, helping Lauren devise tests for choosing which of the two guys is her ultimate ideal.
This Means War plays out as a mostly successful mix of breezy screw-ball comedy and high tech action film, providing both laughs and thrills at the same time even as the story becomes more and more contrived and the characters fail to evolve past romantic com stereotypes. Still, McG’s shiny sleek style and bombastic energy brings a feeling of fantastical frenzy to the film, making FDR and Tuck’s escalating back-and-forth sabotage strangely exhilarating.
Despite the love triangle at the centre of the film, it’s Hardy (Inception, Warrior) and Pine (Star Trek, Unstoppable) who provide its true heart. Each manage to balance the cynical secret agent aspects of their characters’ personalities with a certain sweet fragility that will appeal to anyone who’s ever dreamed of snaring a bad boy with a heart of gold. Their chemistry with one another is a blast to watch, whether they’re working together to capture international terrorists or bickering about which one of them is more adorable (for my money, it was Hardy and his penchant for ruthless, kid-targeting paintball matches).
Unfortunately, their chemistry with the perfectly likable Witherspoon isn’t quite as crackling, but it ultimately doesn’t make a huge difference. This is, after all, a movie about a woman who has to choose between two government-mandated stalkers: we’re meant to suspend our disbelief right from the start.
This Means War may just miss the bullseye in being either a flawless romantic comedy or a foolproof action flick, but the combo proves to be an easy fit when the energy and the actors are this accomplished. Ultimately that’s enough to, at the very least, call a draw in the battle of the sexes at the box office this weekend.