THIS MEANS WAR: Not Even For Free – This Means Crap
No expense has been spared in making THIS MEANS WAR one of the worst pictures of recent years. A dreadful mash-up of the romantic-comedy and action-adventure genres, this thing has been in development for years, and although only 3 writers are credited (Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg for the script, plus Marcus Gautesen for the story), many more have contributed drafts. McG, of Terminator: Salvation and the Charlie’s Angels movies has been given sufficient budget to create and blow-up many CG and actual objects. And the talented threesome of Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine and Tom Hardy have lowered themselves to star in the result.
Let’s start with the rom-com. Lauren (Witherspoon), like the women at the center of just about every Hollywood picture in this genre, is a smart, successful, beautiful career woman who becomes an incompetent imbecile whenever she has to deal with romance, and thus lives a lonely, sterile existence, accompanied only by her Tart-Tongued Married Pal (TTMP) Trish (Chelsea Handler, using the dialogue machine that processes her lines when she plays her own fictionalized sister on Are You There, Chelsea?). Said TTMP, without Lauren’s permission–as TTMPs will do–creates an online listing for Lauren on a matchmaking website. And instantly, Lauren meets Tuck (Hardy), a ruggedly goodlooking, sensitive, seemingly perfect guy. And no sooner does she leave their date that she walks into a nearby store and meets the implausibly-named FDR (Pine), a goodlooking, maybe cockier and slightly less sensitive, but sexy and appealing guy. What’s a girl to do?
Which brings us to the action-adventure. Because unbeknownst to Lauren, or to the TTMP, not only are Tuck and FDR best buds, they’re both CIA operatives who happen to be in town in pursuit of Germanic bad-guy Henrich (Til Schweiger). Once the two of them find out that they’re both after Lauren, they set about booby-trapping and double-crossing each other’s romances with illicit surveillance and unauthorized use of government resources.
It is to laugh! Only it’s not, because even leaving aside the somewhat rancid idea of obsessive stalking being played for laughs, there’s nothing remotely funny or charming about it. The model here, of course, is Mr. and Mrs. Smith (co-written by War‘s Kinberg), which managed to mix marital comedy with action pyrotechnics. That movie–which was entertaining but hardly a model of great filmmaking–had the advantage of the titanic Pitt/Jolie chemical combustion, and in Doug Liman, a director who knows how to season clever detail-work with large-scale genre exercise.
Even at 98 minutes, This Means War belabors its one joke until you pray for Heinrich to put Lauren in mortal danger because that means it’s finally going to end. Witherspoon, who hasn’t made a good career decision since winning the Oscar 7 years ago, is reliably likable but somewhat embarrassing in a role that isn’t worthy of her. Pine and Hardy, both hugely talented young actors, seem to enjoy being silly together, but neither has any chemistry with Witherspoon (in the truly subversive version of this story, they’d find true love with each other), and there’s no spontaneity in their banter.
The released version of This Means War feels like the filmmakers realized the movie was falling apart around them, and the editing (credited to Nicolas de Toth and Jacob Dreibusch) is choppy and out of rhythm, as though the final cut were assembled around unfavorable comments from focus groups. Apart from that, it’s professional enough (things explode when they’re supposed to), for what that’s worth.
This Means War doesn’t work on any level, and what it means is that Witherspoon, Pine and Hardy should all take a hard look at either their representation or their own taste.
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