Opening wide in sneak previews on Tuesday night before its official launch Friday, This Means War is a Valentine’s date dud: Think wilted roses, squashed chocolates and flat champagne.
Though promoted as a romantic thriller, in practice this film (from Charlie’s Angels director Joseph McGinty Nichol, who goes by McG, with co-screenwriter Simon Kinberg ( Mr. & Mrs. Smith), is a tepid sex farce about two best-friend CIA agents (Chris Pine and Tom Hardy), out to bed the same woman (Reese Witherspoon).
An opening introduces us to agents Tuck (Hardy), who has an English accent, a puppy gaze and gelled hair, and Franklin, or FDR Pine), who’s American, with glowing blue eyes and moussed hair. Shortly after charming a bevy of sleek femmes at a fancy cocktail event in Hong Kong, the two men are on a high-rise roof shooting guns, and dangling over precipices, to thwart a robbery. In the aftermath, they have earned the enmity of scowling bad guy Heinrich (German star Til Schweiger), and the annoyance of their boss (Angela Bassett), who grounds them.
While they’re doing desk duty, compulsive womanizer Franklin pushes the sensitive Tuck, who is separated from his wife (Abigail Leigh Spencer) and his son, to jump back into the dating pool.
Meanwhile, we meet plucky-but-single Lauren (Witherspoon), who is busy pursuing her own career (“I love my job!”) testing consumer products. Her best friend, married, boozy daycare worker Trish (Chelsea Handler), seeks vicarious thrills by posting a racy ad for Lauren on a dating website. Tuck answers it and Lauren meets him for lunch, where they enjoy an instant gooey-eyed attraction. Minutes later, Lauren wanders over to an improbably well-stocked video store, where, coincidentally Franklin hits on her. Inspired by her curt rebuff, he tracks her down to interrupt her during a product focus session until she agrees to go out with him.
When the two best buddies discover they are after the same woman, they make a “gentleman’s agreement” not to reveal to Lauren that they know each other. Using all their CIA surveillance gadgets, including hidden cameras and GPS devices, they engage in a creepy contest to see which of them will finally penetrate their target’s perimeter.
There are elements here from the Rock Hudson/Doris Day films of the late fifties and sixties, starting with Pillow Talk, with Witherspoon as the thirtysomething, single, career gal, being romantically deceived. There are also some contemporary raunchy ingredients, with comic Handler delivering a stream of genital jokes (though her acting is so weak she can’t wisecrack and make eye contact at the same time), and the ever-popular bromance theme, although it’s more of a Zoolander-like, suppressed homo-mance here.
The pretty stars try gamely. Ultimately, Witherspoon disappoints the most, in the kind of helpless ingénue role she should have put behind her a decade ago. Rising character actor Hardy ( Inception, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises) will live this down. The only real winner here could be Pine ( Star Trek), whose comic timing is surprisingly sharp.
Too often, though, the dialogue is upstaged by the overwrought interior design, while the action sequences, including a climactic car chase when Heinrich shows up again, are incoherent. It’s a bad sign when a film which aims only for froth can’t achieve more than moments of embarrassment, punctuated with sporadic agitation.
This Means War
- Directed by McG
- Written by Simon Kinberg and Timothy Dowling
- Starring Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine and Tom Hardy
- Classification: 14A