- Vancouver, British Columbia - Two years ago, Katherine Heigl starred in Killers with Ashton Kutcher, which was widely panned as a terrible film, representing little more than mere fluff. The truth is that I didn't think it was that bad so long as one accepted it as being mindless entertainment, whose only purpose was to provide a nearly two hour escape from the dull realities in which most people live their lives. The story was about a woman meeting a ideal man abroad, marrying him, only to discover that he is an assassin, and now her neighbours have been hired to assassinate the newlywed couple, all to a romantic and comedic script. The film was a bit of a loose, poor man's spin off of Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Yet considering the film cost nearly $75 million to make and it only brought in $47 million domestically, it would seem that it did not prove to be very encouraging for future romantic spy caper comedies. This year, however, This Means War was released in hopes of demonstrating that there is still a market for slick and sexy romantic comedy spy flicks. Truthfully after having seen all of the previously three mentioned films, I'm not sure that this blend of genres is well suited for repeated cinematic success; instead, it may have been a one off for Mr. & Mrs. Smith that wasn't meant to be replicated.
This Means War is the story of Tuck (Tom Hardy) and FDR Foster (Chris Pine), who are best friends and both work for the CIA. After having botched what was supposed to be a clean mission in which they prevented international criminal, Heinrich (Til Schweiger), from obtaining a weapon of mass destruction. Heinrich's brother dies a very messy death, which drives Heinrich to seek revenge against the two agents. Finding themselves grounded by their CIA chief (Angela Bassett), the two agents have too much time on their hands as they do office work on the Heinrich case. Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) comes into the story as the head of a product-testing group. She is pushed by her best friend, Trish (Chelsea Handler), to get back out on the dating scene. Tuck, meanwhile, feels the same sort of pressure to get back on the horse and find someone to spend his life with after his previous relationship failed to work out. FDR meanwhile encourages this, but not through online dating like Tuck does, where he meets Lauren. Tuck and Lauren go out on a date and hit it off, only for FDR to run into Lauren immediately afterward, not realizing that she is in fact the woman that Tuck just went on a date with. FDR falls in love with Lauren, and the two guys return to work feeling like they have met the woman of their dreams, only they didn't realize that they had fallen in love with the same woman, which pushes them into a competition against each other over who will win Lauren's heart.
A film like This Means War was never meant to be a Citizen Kane or anything entirely memorable, but like Killers, merely a piece of cinema meant as an escape for the film going masses. I can honestly say that I learned nothing about humanity, myself, or love and relationships. The film is very light, but neither do I get the feeling that it meant to be anything other than that. There are a few amusing situationally comedic moments, but they are generally few and far between. The dialogue is not particularly sharp or creative, but somewhat below average.
The characters are not particularly charismatic either, nor are they charming with perhaps the exception of Tuck, played by Tom Hardy. Yet even he looks to be a little suffocated by the mediocre performances around him. FDR is nothing more than a repeated stereotype of a womanizing CIA agent, who enjoys weekly flings with flight attendants during their layovers. He talks a lot, seemingly to prevent any sensible woman from opening her mouth in protest of his advances. He likes his women and knows how to get into their pants. There is little deviation in Chris Pine's character in This Means War compared to his breakout role in Star Trek as James T. Kirk; they are practically same.
Lauren, meanwhile, is the stereotypical pre-middle aged woman, who has tried to lose herself in her career, simply in hopes of avoiding having to face the realization that she is still alone and has no one in this world. All along, however, she desperately seeks a man to complete her, but she is too scared of getting burned again. Her best friend, Trish, played by the terrible Chelsea Handler, is also the stereotypical best friend to the female lead, who continually tries to push her best friend to live a sexually adventurous life through which she can vicariously live, because she herself is married and doesn't get enough satisfying, kinky sex from her fat, slobbish husband.
Oh, and who can forget about Tuck and FDR's CIA boss, played by Angela Bassett, who is yet another stereotype of a woman in an executive position, who lacks any manners or politeness, presumably because she has had to fight and claw her way up the ladder and she'll be damned if anyone below her buggers up her career. I appreciate that Hollywood has done a piss-poor job of creating dynamic roles for African-American actresses, but it is a little tiresome always seeing African-American women relegated to playing CIA bosses or executives, who keep the playboy men under her on a tight leash.
As stated earlier, Tuck is the only character who stirs any positive feelings, since he resembles the most likely to be a normal human, not based on an overused caricature. He is trying to move on from a previous relationship, which he wanted to make work, but because of his career, it just wasn't possible. He wants a better relationship with his son from that relationship, but again, he just hasn't been able to be there consistently for him, because of his career in the CIA, which he hides by saying he is a travel agent. Of all the characters, his possesses the most humanity, and while much of this film suffers under the incompetent writing, Tom Hardy manages to still make himself look okay in this film.
There were times while watching this film that I couldn't help but wonder if the film had been mistakenly rushed through post-production, particularly near the end of the film when Lauren was about to confess who she had chosen between the two men. It almost looked as though they hadn't finished the sharpening of the scene, which was blurry and out of focus? How this happens on a film that cost a rumored $65 million is beyond me? It might be forgivable on a low-budget production that didn't have the finances to order a re-shoot, but on a major production like this, it is shocking. Furthermore, the film editing was noticeably bad at times, particularly in one scene in which both FDR and Tuck covertly try to learn more about Lauren at her home without her noticing, or them noticing each other. To begin with, the scene is terribly choreographed and feels poorly executed and written. Granted, it is admirable for being a single shot scene, but it isn't entirely necessary. And worse of all with the scene, it ends in a very awkward manner with Lauren opening and spilling her popcorn into a bucket. We're given a few rather slight insights into Lauren's hobbies, but they are used very passingly in the future of the film. It could've been so much sharper, but in the end, it makes for a very flat scene.
If you're looking for a forgettable film that will provide a few laughs and pass the time, This Means War will more than satisfy, but anything beyond that, it is a shallow, uninspired and flat romantic comedy set to a domestic spy battle. The actors involved, with the exception of Chelsea Handler, are capable of much better than what they signed on to here. The only refreshing thing about the film is purely a local bias for me, which was seeing that most of the principal photography was filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia. Beyond that, I worry that others would've felt that it was an entirely unsatisfying cinematic experience if they expected anything beyond two hours worth of mindless entertainment. It's your call. If your expectations are low, then it might suffice. If it is anything more, don't bother. But really, with a director going by the name of McG, can you really expect anything?
Rating: 1.5/5 Sour Grapes