With Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, Chelsea Handler, Angela Bassett. Written by Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg. Directed by McG. Rated PG-13 for sexual content including references, some violence and action, and for language. 98 minutes.
THIS MEANS WAR means Hollywood still doesn’t know how to do a romantic comedy, in spite of decades of examples of how it can be done right. A lot of talented people are wasted in this silly movie which seems to serve the idea that good looks are all that really count in life. One suspects the perpetrators of this cinematic crime spent Valentine’s Day alone.
FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy) are two CIA agents and best friends. In a totally absurd prologue, they’re supposedly to engage in a covert operation that instead leaves bodies all over the place with a survivor (Til Schweiger) out for revenge. Don’t believe it? Don’t worry, this subplot is so contrived that it barely registers until the obligatory climactic battle. It’s all set up so that these two friends can use the resources of the CIA to compete for the same woman. What’s that? The CIA isn’t allowed to engage in domestic operations? You’re already thinking too much for this movie.
The women they’re competing for is Lauren (Reese Witherspoon), who works for some consumer testing operation. Don’t pay too much attention to this. It is also irrelevant. What matters is that Tuck meets her through an internet dating site and that, on her way home, she meets FDR in a video store. Soon the two friends are competing to see who will win her heart.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the film is the complete waste of time this was for the cast. Rosemary Harris picks up a paycheck as FDR’s “Nana.” Angela Bassett does the same as FDR’s and Tuck’s boss. Most notable is comedian Chelsea Handler, who isn’t terribly funny, but whose comments apparently got the film its original R rating. Since it is being released with as a PG-13, one can only imagine that her best lines will be in the “unrated” DVD release down the road.
As for the three principals, Pine (“Star Trek,” “Unstoppable”) and Hardy (“Warrior,” “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”) are so bland that you will forget you’ve ever seen them before, if you actually did. Both play characters who are shallow and vapid, but it is the emptier, prettier one who gets to prevail. That should tell you how shallow and vapid the film is as a whole. Reese Witherspoon, who ought to be holding out for really good parts, takes a role that would have been embarrassing for Katherine Heigl. The low point is her bopping around her apartment improbably singing along with some rap song.
This is a movie so dimwitted it makes last week’s “The Vow” look smart and sophisticated. If Hollywood keeps turning out junk like “This Means War,” viewers may well declare war – by staying home and watching good movies on DVD instead.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.