Movie Review – This Means War (Extended Version)
– Summary –
Director : McG
Year Of Release : 2012
Principal Cast : Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, Chelsea Handler, Til Schweiger, Angela Bassett, Warren Christie, Rosemary Harris.
Approx Running Time : 100 Minutes
Synopsis: Two CIA agents fall over over each other trying to impress the same woman – unbeknownst to her, all the while on the hunt for a rogue German criminal intent on revenge for his brothers’ death.
What we think : With every fiber of my being I hated the hell out of this film. It’s a mess, it truly is, from the miscasting of Tom Hardy as the British-half of CIA agent pairing with Chris Pine, to the truly horrendous addition of Chelsea Handler as a Stifler-esque character who is completely at odds with the semi-charming comedy-lite tone the film has going for it; and yet, I managed to let out several guffaws here and there, which indicates that at some point, there might have been something salvageable in this debacle. Utterly morally inept, the film relies almost solely on the breezy, Cheshire-cat beauty of its leading lady, although when she’s not on the screen, the film dies a horrid, screeching death.
If James Bond cracked jokes instead of woodies.
This Means War is a film so chock full of problematic material it’s
hard impossible for me to give it a positive review. As a film, I couldn’t decide if it was trying to be an action flick with moments of comedy, a comedy film with an action quotient to keep the blokes in the audience happy, or some bizarre mixture of the two. McG, the invariably divisive director of such crowd-pleasing trifles like Charlies Angels (and the sequel), as well as the more recent Terminator flick, Salvation, has tried desperately to give us a film which could be accepted by both the male and female demographic, and ended up pleasing neither. It’s a weird James Bond/American Pie hybrid that utterly squanders the potential chemistry of its leading lady and Chris Pine, and throwing in current white-hot Brit Tom Hardy as a CIA agent (really, a Brit in the most US of A careers? And nobody bats an eyelid?) just to stir the pot. To call this film “fun” and “carefree”, which would no doubt satisfy the less discerning fan, is somewhat disingenuous, because it’s hardly fun, and definitely not carefree – the cast really have to work for the comedy, and McG’s inability to balance the frivolity (such as it is) with the inevitable action undoes nearly all the work the actors put in as far as the romantic angles go. Ham-handed scripting and an uneven tonality to proceedings ensure this is instantly forgettable drivel, although having said that, there were times when I did laugh out loud.
Tuck Hansen (Tom hardy) and Franklin D Roosevelt “FDR” Foster (Chris Pine) are CIA operatives tasked with capturing German crime kingpin Heinrich (Til Schweiger). After an operation goes wrong, the pair are grounded to their desks, leaving them with plenty of time to spend tooling about after women. With Hansen estranged from the mother of his child, he seeks companionship through a dating site, meeting attractive Lauren Scott (Reese Witherspoon), a product testing executive searching for Mr Right after discovering her Mr Wrong in bed with a friend. Lauren and Hansen hit it off on their first date, although immediately afterwards, Lauren meets FDR in a video store – unbeknownst to her, and with neither of them suspecting who she is – and also hits her up. When the two agents learn they’re competing for the affections of the same women, they undertake a “gentleman’s agreement” that whomever should…. win the contest, the other will back away completely. And so the dating begins, with each of the guys using covert CIA operatives to undermine, spy on, and influence the others’ relationship with Lauren. Of course, it becomes even more problematic when Lauren is kidnapped by a vengeful Heinrich, and they must both put aside their differences to save the day.
This Means War is a film with major issues. First, the cast. Casting Tom Hardy as British CIA Agent Hansen might have seemed like a great idea, but Hardy seems ill-at-ease with this kind of “knockabout” comedy, floundering alongside co-star Chris Pine’s near-effortless performance as his fellow operative and best mate. [Interesting side note – both actors have appeared in the Star Trek franchise, Hardy as Picard’s opposite in Star Trek Nemesis, and Pine as the young Captain Kirk in JJ Abrams recent reboot of the franchise, Star Trek.] Hardy’s intense performance style is directly at odds with the cheery, breezy style MgG tries to invest in this film, and I felt he lacked the genuine chemistry with Witherspoon to believe they were potentially a couple. Chris Pine, meanwhile, is particularly winning, as FDR, the poorly monikered character (a factor which never once becomes a subject of humor in the film – how did the script-writers miss this opportunity?) who dazzles Witherspoon’s Lauren with brilliant blue eyes and some help from his CIA flunkies. Witherspoon is her typically luminous self, although one gets the sense that she really seemed to be acting in a totally different film – a light, breezy rom-com of the type which this film simply isn’t. She’s wonderful to watch, and remains perhaps amongst the most Audrey Hepburn-esque of all major modern film stars; seeing her engage in American Pie styled sex-dialogue with co-star Chelsea Handler – as Lauren’s friend Trish – just feels awkward and forced. The sexual overtones of the film feel too adult for what the film is ostensibly trying to be, and this just alienates the audience from the characters’ plight. It’s a delicate line balancing bonking and bullets, and while many directors have tried with mixed success, McG isn’t a director famed for things like “delicacy” or “subtlety”; expecting the romantic angles in this film to be even remotely believable is just asking for disappointment. And it is a disappointment.
The films core issue – rising above the many moral and ethical issues I had with what’s occurring on-screen – is that McG directs this film like he’s making it for blokes, yet the story seems aimed at the ultimate female problem: what to do when you’re dating two guys at once. The female-centric story arc is given balls by McG’s testosterone-fueled direction, with every camera pan and close-up and explosive dramatic moment punctuated by the hyper-kinetic Michael Bay-styled cinematic techniques that ruin true emotion. It’s counter-intuitive to a romantic comedy, which effectively destroys the mood of the romance, instead serving up a dish of what men think girls want in their romantic comedy. McG just wouldn’t have been my first pick to make this a winning film. As I said: bonking and bullets are a tough mixture to stir and bake correctly, and (if I continue this rancid metaphor to its natural conclusion) McG isn’t a baker I’d buy a cake from. Sure, the action beats are vintage Hollywood, and you can see McG behind the camera giggling with glee as explosions, bullets and cars crash across the frame with wild abandon. But the more romantic moments, the tenderness and the syrup heaped upon us by what can only be described as a join-the-dots script, are lost in the cacophony of boys and their toys.
Another of the films’ problems is the rather morally bankrupt way people in this film behave: the lack of privacy and the seeming lack of oversight by the CIA to green-light these boys spying on each other to the point of using infra-red heat detecting cameras to watch people having sex, made me wince. As I mentioned, the way the film is written, slanted from the male perspective, while trying to appeal to the female demographic, is a combo much like oil and water. It just ain’t gonna mix, buddy. The film spins from serious breaches of privacy and “knockabout” fun to serious action and the mass killing of Bad Guys with little thought or legitimacy – again, it’s like this film is mix of jigsaw pieces from multiple puzzles, with McG trying desperately to hammer pieces that don’t fit into some kind of recognizable image – leaving only the romantic moments to hang any kind of emotion on.
If only the romantic moments were actually any good – Witherspoon and Pine try hard, and for a few moments actually seem like they genuinely belong together, but only for a moment. The characters aren’t genuine, they have no depth to their souls, and exist as avatars of actual characters shoehorned into a film in which they flounder and drown. Til Schweiger must have watched this film afterwards and wondered where all his hard work went – he and his character are treated absolutely appallingly by the script, with only the most tacit nod to the fact that he’s supposedly this vile, evil killer with no conscience, and yet he’s dispatched with almost casual shoulder-shrugging nonchalance in a way that makes you wonder why they even bothered having him in the film in the first place. He’s only in the film because they needed a villain to make FDR and Hansen’s CIA links work within the narrative. Schweiger isn’t the best actor you’ve ever seen anyway, but he’s given nothing here, and that’s a shame. Rosemary Harris, who I last saw as Aunt May in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films, delivers a blink-and-you-miss-it performance as almost the exact same character here, as FDR’s grandmother. Aussie fans will spot local comedienne-made-good Rebel Wilson in a cringe-worthy scene involving a “fake family” for Hansen that is as bad as you might think it is. Angela Bassett’s lippy CIA boss has no purpose whatsoever; this role could have gone to a less expensive actor with almost no discernible difference in outcome.
This Means War is nearly unwatchable from the perspective of being a romantic comedy – a genre I think has become somewhat overrated in recent years, but this film debases the very meaning of those words. It’s neither romantic, nor an outright comedy, and even as a combo of the two just misses the mark by so wide a margin it’s hard to describe exactly what we ended up with. A mess, at the very least. Sure, there’s a couple of guffaws along the way – mostly between Pine and Hardy as they bicker between each themselves over who “deserves” Lauren more – such a ghastly sexist methodology in this modern age, and one which fails utterly here – but mostly this film is a tawdry, hard-yards slog through the kind of screenplay you’d find written by three guys over beer, football and pizza. Some may find tidbits of humor here and there, and others may find the action exciting (there’s just not enough of it, to be honest) but when you step back and appraise the total product from the benefit of five minutes distance from the end credits, you just have to concede the lack of grace with which McG directs, the truly abhorrent decision to make this a sex-comedy with action, and the utter lack of consideration for any of the character actually having real emotions, and you’ve got a limp, disinterested feature film just begging to wind up in the bargain bin.
My wife will claim I spent a lot of this film laughing, and in all honesty, I did find some moments funny – just not enough to counteract the issues I could see coming a mile away while wearing my Critics Hat. Did I enjoy it? For Witherspoon, yes, but not for much else. As I said at the outset, ever fiber of my being screamed at me to think this film was just terrible, and having now spent some time mulling it over (as I write this, the end credits are now just finishing on the screen) I can see This Means War for what it is: it’s a film in the same vein as Tom Cruise’s recent debacle Knight And Day. It’s a miasma, the gut-bustingly funny comedy never once busted my gut, nor did the action truly engage me in any way, leaving me with an opinion that the whole endeavor was an opportunity not just squandered, but wasted by McG’s daft direction and some eye-wateringly awkward moments of dialogue and “fun”. This Means War had potential, and had it had a better script, it would have probably been quite a charmer, but as it stands, I’m not going back to this one in a hurry. Take from that what you will.
What others are saying about This Means War:
Teri over at Front Room Cinema all but detested it: “Half a star for some fleetingly funny dialogue that fizzled flat amongst its sugar-heavy direction and cornea-burning cinematography, and a full star for Hardy and Witherspoon’s efforts. Otherwise, this was just another wearisome McG dud that will seriously cause you more harm than good.”
Sam at Duke & The Movies really liked it: “The core of This Means War lies in its protagonists and their equally hyperbolic desires for love. While most of what takes place in the film is lacking in logic, it’s light, witty, and perpetually entertaining.”
Dan The Man f’ing loathed it: “Even though the leads try their hardest, This Means War fails in almost everything such as a bad direction from a dude nobody likes as it is, a script that feels like it was written in some 12-year old’s journal, and a premise that may be all fun and games when it first starts, has a very dark and mean feel to it deep down inside.”
What did you think of This Means War? Did you hate it, or love it? Let us know in the comments below!!
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