This Means War

Posted February 15, 2012 by in


Total Score

2.5/ 5

Quick Stats

Genre: rom-com, action, espionage
Director: McG
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Actors: Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Tom Hardy
Length: 97 minutes
Release Date: 2/17/2012
Studio: Overbrook Entertainment, Robert Simonds Productions, Dune Entertainment
What We Thought

While an occasionally funny comedy, This Means War is nothing more than a manufactured product designed to appeal to a broad demographic.

by Daniel Hodgson
Full Article
This Means War is a screwball comedy of the high concept, big budget era of Hollywood filmmaking.  Notice I say “of,” not “for.”   While it has many of the trademarks of classic screwball films—a farcical tale of courtship, verbal sparring, and slapstick comedy—its characters are of the thinly drawn, forgettable type that modern Hollywood creates.  There’s big, loud action scenes that add nothing to an already incohesive story, and its ideas are as shallow as its characters.  That said, while This Means War is by no means good, the comedy is done energetically, and the gags hit more often than they miss, making This Means War a guilty pleasure.  A very guilty pleasure.  I’m already counting the Hail Marys.
     CIA agents FDR Foster (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy) are the best of friends, and each fall in love with a woman. When they discover that is in fact the same woman, they make a gentleman’s agreement.  They agree not to tell her that they know she’s dating both of them, and that they know each other.  They agree not to get in each other’s way, and to allow her to choose between them—and may the best man win.  The last rule, no sleeping with her, proves the most challenging (it is Reese Witherspoon, after all).
     Now, that does not stop them from using their CIA resources to gather intelligence on her to find out her turn-ons and turnoffs.  They plant listening bugs in her house, and use satellite cameras to spy on their rival  on their dates with Lauren.   “Did you recon my date?”  Tuck asks FDR.
     Lauren, a dating newcomer, confides in her obnoxious friend Trish (Chelsea Handler) on how to handle dating two guys at once.  Handler, in a Golden Raspberry-worthy performance, manages to sap all the likability out of a room, even with the charismatic Reese Witherspoon in it.  Prior to this, I’ve only seen roughly 15 seconds of Handler on television.  Her personality is too big for the small screen.  It’s too big for the big screen.  It’s too big for IMAX.  She proves incapable of sharing the screen and supporting the other actress.  This is my first real exposure to the TV personality.  May it be the last.
     The story is framed by a subplot involving Heinrich, a person of interest to the CIA.  FDR and Tuck kill Heinrich’s brother in an operation (that has no bearing itself on the plot), and Heinrich seeks revenge against them.  He pops in once or twice to remind the audience that he’s still there.  The story arc feels like its from a completely different screenplay, and it’s a distraction from an otherwise tight storyline.  This is likely due to three credited writers between the story and screenplay.  That too many cooks spoil the soup is something Hollywood will never be in danger of learning.
     The central fault of This Means War is that FDR and Tuck are so thinly drawn that who she chooses in the end comes off as arbitrary.  FDR is a playboy who may have finally found the one, but there’s little more to him than that, and all that can be said for Tuck is he’s quite “British,” whatever that means.  Lauren’s most pronounced trait is that she’s pretty, but otherwise comes off as no more worth fighting for than Bella Swan.
     There is some action in This Means War, but none of it is rousing or inventive.  Director McG, who previously helmed the weak Salvation entry in the Terminator franchise, uses the shaky-cam and quick cutting strategy that’s so popular as of late to disguise the fact that Pine and Hardy are actors, not action stars.  This sabotages them as credible spies, even in a fantasy context.  The action involves gun fights on rooftops and shootouts in strip clubs.  Again, this content, deriving from the Heinrich story arc, feels like it’s from a completely different movie, and there’s so little of it that you’d wonder what it’s doing there in the first place (oh, that’s right, it’s for the trailer and the male demographic).
     However, even if This Means War doesn’t achieve its potential, I have to admit a fair amount of the comedy works.  In an incredibly funny scene,  Tuck takes Lauren on a date to a paintball range, and uses his CIA training to terrorize the youthful opposing team.  Watch as they huddle together in a bunker, hiding from his paintball wrath.
     A funny thing about This Means War is that Lauren conducts focus groups for various products for her job.  This Means War, in many ways, feels exactly like that; a manufactured product designed to appeal to a broad demographic, rather than the confident work of an artist trying to express something in a visual medium.  There’s action for guys, romance for women, and an attractive cast for both sexes to feast their eyes upon.  The action isn’t bloody, and the language is just barely under the “PG-13” rating (cut down from an initial “R” judgement by the MPAA, yet another of their blunders), ensuring that minors can attend as well, and be able to listen to Witherspoon and Handler talk about Pine’s penis.  Enjoy.

About the Author

Daniel Hodgson

Daniel has a degree in film from the University of Texas at Austin, and writes about himself in the third-person, because that's the fashion.


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