Film Review: “This Means War”

by Jason LeRoy on February 17, 2012

Tom Hardy, Reese Witherspoon, and Chris Pine in THIS MEANS WAR

starring: Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, Chelsea Handler, Til Schweiger, Abigail Spencer, Angela Bassett, Rosemary Harris

written by: Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg

directed by: McG

MPAA: Rated PG-13 for sexual content including references, some violence and action, and for language.

This Means War is a romantic action comedy that fails spectacularly on all three counts. It is so startlingly inept in so many ways, I felt my brain caving in from all the remarkable wrongness I was witnessing. It is so obliviously unrepentant in its awfulness, I can only describe it as the Chris Brown of bad movies. But I will try my best to say more.

On paper, it seems like a no-brainer good time: rising-star studs Chris Pine and Tom Hardy star as hot-shot CIA operatives (who dress and act more like fratty investment bankers) whom, unbeknown to each other, fall in love with the same woman, Lauren (Reese Witherspoon). But once they discover their rivalry for Lauren’s affection, they backburner the terrorist they’ve been battling (Til Schweiger) to start dueling with each other. Even though it’s perfectly clear that they’d prefer to be sword-fighting, if you catch my meaning. Which, weirdly, is a very obvious joke the movie refrains from making, even though it’s very, very noticeable. I mean, look at that picture up there.

Okay, this should really work. It has a dependable leading lady, two charming up-and-comer leading men, the big-screen comic relief debut of Chelsea Handler, a script co-written by Simon Kinberg (who wrote Mr. and Mrs. Smith, which looks like Rashomon in comparison), and the direction of the always-kinetic McG, who proved with Charlie’s Angels that he knows how to craft big, flashy, dumb action-comedies that are also insanely fun. What could go wrong? In short: everything. EVERYTHING.

This Means War actually makes you long for the standard-issue mediocrity of most major-studio winter releases. It serves as a vital object lesson in a subject seldom discussed in mainstream film criticism: editing. Good editing is so fluid and intuitive as to be unnoticeable by the average viewer, so the topic only tends to come up when it’s either really flashy or really bad. In this case, it’s a generous helping of both.

Based on the finished product, one would assume that This Means War went into production with at least three separate scripts, all of which were filmed, then chopped into bits, shaken up, and hastily re-assembled by a very distracted and/or disinterested person. I have never seen a film so utterly lacking in even the slightest sense of cohesion or flow. It is like a kite that can’t catch a breeze, and McG is the spazzy little boy who won’t stop spinning in circles, too occupied with screaming “Whee!” to notice that it’s just dragging on the ground behind him.

Everyone involved is done a grievous disservice by the film. While it’s somewhat refreshing to watch Witherspoon in a lighter and friskier performance than we’ve seen from her in a while, she is also saddled with an offensively reductive and far-fetched “I’m a hapless single gal who just can’t find a man!” character arc. On the bright side, she does have a love scene on a kitchen counter in which she is hilariously decked out in ruffle-trim panties and beige heels.

Pine aims for cocky and lands on smugly despicable. Hardy, in addition to being unintelligible for at least half of his screen time, is miscast as a mild-mannered, optimistic romantic; his attempts to look happy and love-struck read more like creepy and volatile. Schweiger, Angela Bassett, and Rosemary Harris are all wasted. And despite having a stand-up shtick and literary career founded on being the forever-21 drunk party girl, Handler again finds herself playing an old married lady with kids (as with her lamentable sitcom, Are You There, Chelsea?). She scores what few laughs the film has, but most of her bits feel obvious and desperate.

What a mess this film is. It is an incompetent mish-mash of weak action and weaker jokes, setups without payoffs and payoffs without setups. And worst of all, it just isn’t fun. It is an early contender for the worst film of the year.

This Means War opens nationwide today.

Read Also:

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: