By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
This Means War was directed by “McG.”
What does that mean? It means that those of us watching this romantic-triangle romp featuring Reese Witherspoon at the vertex are at the mercy of a pretentious, uni-monickered director with a sledgehammer style and absolutely no sense of humor.
Truth be told, McG has had his respectable outings (We Are Marshall, Terminator Salvation). So we know that he is capable of conjuring watchable work.
But he’s best known for the lame and lamer Charlie’s Angels and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, and that’s the wrongheaded mode he’s in with this outing.
Movies rarely come along this immediately overbearing and obnoxious.
This Means War is a romantic action comedy that doesn’t know when to speak, doesn’t know when to shut up, doesn’t know when to show off, and doesn’t know when to shut down.
Directed by an artiste who draws no line between invasion-of-privacy creepy and knee-slappingly hilarious, all this romantic thriller knows how to do is vacillate between teasing flirtation scenes for half its audience and overwrought action sequences for the other half. Let’s, for the sake of argument, call the first group “women” and the second group “men.” Neither is being presented with anything of value.
Two CIA operatives, womanizer FDR and single-dad Tuck, who are also inseparably close best buddies played by Chris Pine and Tom Hardy, find themselves punished for reckless on-the-job behavior by being relegated to desk jobs at CIA headquarters.
Then they discover that they are dating the same woman, a consumer-products-testing exec named Lauren, played by Witherspoon.
So they make a gentlemanly, bromantic pact to let the best man win her affections. But during the spy-versus-spy love competition, they still resort to espionage resources, equipment, and tricks at every turn to undermine each other’s romantic efforts.
Mistaking energy for humor, McG moves things along at a when-skating-over-thin-ice-speed-is-of-the-essence pace. But fast-moving claptrap is still claptrap.
The convoluted screenplay by Simon Kinberg and Tomothy Dowling, based on a story by Dowling and Marcus Gautesen, doesn’t even try to make any aspect of the locations, situations, behaviors, or strategies even vaguely plausible. These characters might as well be living on another planet.
And does the premise eventually invest you in Lauren’s choice in a man? Not a whit.
Witherspoon is usually an immensely charming on-screen presence. Under McG’s direction, although she has her moments, she spends most of the film swimming against the tide just to be palatable.
As for Pine and Hardy — the former best known for Star Trek and Unstoppable, the latter best known for Warrior and Animal Kingdom — their previous solid contributions to respectable films demonstrate to what extent McG has left them dangling in the wind here.
Career advice to the three principals: sue McG for non-support, then get another movie to the marketplace as quickly as possible so that this turkey starts receding into the forgotten past.
The one performer who rises above the embarrassment surrounding her is television’s Chelsea Handler, who is both natural and funny as Witherspoon’s advice-dispensing best friend. But her small role does little to change this regrettable misfire’s overall impression of ineptness.
If there’s a genuine moment anywhere in this mess, I couldn’t find it. If there was a real laugh at any point, I didn’t experience or even notice it. If there is a moment of actual quality or interest, it must be on the cutting room floor.
But don’t bet on it.
And if there was one monumentally foolish directorial misstep, that I found. Only a director as deluded about his own skills as McG could include clips from half a dozen other classic films. Each one makes you want to exit stage left and abandon this turkey so you can watch the film you just saw a snippet of.
Oh, well. So let’s McPan 1 star out of 4 for this dreadful and depressing spy comedy. If ever a movie’s existence suggests that we give peace a chance, it’s This Means War.