Monday, February 20, 2012

This Means War


CIA operatives and best friends Tuck (Tom Hardy) and FDR (Chris Pine) discover that they’re both dating the same woman in THIS MEANS WAR, so the competition is on to see who can be the first to win her heart or at least make her break it off with the other.

Both men utilize the full resources of their employer to gain intelligence on indecisive consumer product tester Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) and to thwart the other’s romantic advances.  Lauren’s none the wiser to their spying or their friendship, leaving her free to enjoy being lavished with her suitors’ intense attention.  Encouraging her to string both men along for as long as possible is her married friend Trish (Chelsea Handler), who lives vicariously through Lauren’s suddenly active love life.

Love is a battlefield in THIS MEANS WAR, and the three likable leads are the casualties.  Witherspoon has served her duty logging time in romantic comedies, but she deserves better than one that requires her to play a character who doesn’t seem likely to behave in a duplicitous manner or ignore what her beaus pulled on her.  That she has to follow the advice of a thoroughly unappealing Handler, who never declines an opportunity to make a smutty comment, is all the more indignity.  Hardy is left to look like a noble, wounded service dog as he respectfully appeals for Lauren’s affection, excepting that whole invasion of privacy thing.  Pine settles easily into the lady-killer role, even if he’s a bad boy to be redeemed, at least according to this film’s confused perspective.

Of course, the huge unspoken problem with THIS MEANS WAR is the aggressive eavesdropping on and monitoring of Lauren.  It’s hard to feel a rooting interest for Tuck or FDR when their courtship of her hinges on recording and reviewing her every word and is motivated by the pettiest masculine rivalry.  Never mind that much of what they might learn about Lauren could come from simply asking her about her interests rather than treating her as if she were in a terrorist cell.  That wouldn’t allow director McG to trick out THIS MEANS WAR with a bunch of high tech gadgetry and action scenes.

I often feel like the people making romantic comedies don’t actually like the genre. THIS MEANS WAR never attempts to create an air of romance.  The creepy vibe permeating the love triangle doesn’t allow it all to be played off as a light contrivance either.  Although Pine, Hardy, and Witherspoon are squandered, they offer a game effort at making this dubious material work.   Ultimately, though, THIS MEANS WAR is a pronouncement of aggression on the very audience that wants to see a funny love story.

Grade: C-

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