I’m openly a big fan of both spy movies and romantic comedies, so it would stand to reason that I would enjoy a movie that combined those two, right? Well, that would assume that the filmmakers did something more creative than simply using the most cliched tropes of each genre. This Means War, while fun at times, fundamentally fails to create a unique or likable story.
This Means War focuses on a love triangle between two CIA agents, Tuck (Tom Hardy) and FDR (Chris Pine) who inadvertently both begin dating consumer reporter Lauren (Reese Witherspoon). After botching a mission and getting themselves “grounded” by the CIA, Tuck and FDR are more than a little bored. Lonely and longing for a reunion with his ex-wife and young son, Tuck decides to try online dating. Meanwhile, Lauren’s friend Trish (Chelsea Handler) has set her up with an online dating account in an attempt to get her to put herself “out there” more. Quickly, Tuck and Lauren find each other and have a wonderful first meeting. After their date, Lauren goes to rent a video (at an actual video store?) and encounters FDR who pretty much bullies her into going out with him. When the best friends discover they’re dating the same girl, they decide to let Lauren pick between them. The rules of their gentlemen’s agreement are simple. 1) They won’t tell Lauren they know each other. 2) Stay out of each other’s way. 3) Neither of them can sleep with her until she makes her decision. Naturally, things get more complicated as they both use the CIA’s powers to learn as much about Lauren as possible so they can woo her, making it even harder for her to choose. Oh, and by the way, that botched mission? The random Russian bad guy with no backstory, Heinrich (Til Schweiger), is still trying to kill them.
For me, the most off-putting aspect of this film is the way the writers have applied the tropes of spy movies to a romantic comedy through the use of surveillance. I’m not sure if somehow they never read any film theory about the male gaze or if they just didn’t care, but there is something really creepy about the way Tuck and FDR use audio, video, and UV recording devices to find out what Lauren thinks of them. To make matters worse, in one scene they both break into her apartment to find out more about her. Somehow we’re supposed to believe that she’s so engrossed in making a snack and singing along to 90’s rap that she doesn’t notice not one, but two, strange men in her apartment. It would have been unbelievable even if the character hadn’t been so uptight.
In spite of the creep-factor and overall bad, lazy writing, I actually really liked the characters. I attribute this entirely to the performances. Hardy and Pine have really great chemistry together so their brotherhood-like friendship is believable and endearing. Witherspoon manages to play Lauren’s uptightness without her coming off as shrill or as a control-freak. She’s likeable and somehow I actually feel sympathetic for her in the situation. Given that her character is not developed nearly as much as the men and sometimes feels like any other rom-com female dropped into the plot, her likability is a testament to Witherspoon’s stage presence.
I will, however, give This Means War credit for a really cute subverted “meet-cute.” At the video store, FDR is clearly putting the moves on Lauren, trying to demonstrate that he knows what she wants by finding the perfect video for her to rent. While he thinks she is eating out of his hand, she plays along until the end of his pitch when she reveals that she knows exactly what he’s doing, giving him a play-by-play of the pickup and declaring that she can choose for herself. Unfortunately for her, that made FDR like her more, but in context the scene is a really nice twist on a classic romantic comedy convention and Witherspoon and Pine play it incredibly charmingly.
Otherwise, This Means War is probably okay for renting when there’s nothing better to do, but its inadvertent creepiness, lack of creativity, and poor writing only earn it 2/5 stars.
This Means War was written by Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg and directed by McG. It runs 97 minutes and is rated PG-13 for sexual content including references, some violence and action, and for language.
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