The romantic comedy genre usually has one thing down pat: the comedy. Even if you simply roll your eyes at the romance of it, they are usually genuinely funny. Unless they are This Means War, one of the weakest efforts from the romantic comedy genre I have seen in the past few years. That’s a shame because some of the trailers hint at something that takes a different and fresh approach. For instance, what if two buddy spies fell for the same girl, and used all of the tools available to them to take advantage of the situation? That should be an interesting premise. Turns out what is written on paper doesn’t always translate well onto screen.
FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy) are super spies set to take down a Russian criminal. When they botch their latest job, they are both put on suspension. To blow off some steam, Tuck decides to jump back into the dating scene for the first time in years while FDR—a ladies man—laughs at the ineptitude of it all. Then they stumble upon the same girl, Lauren (Reese Witherspoon), and while it seems like a friendly competition is brewing, it turns a bit more serious as they both begin to fall for her. She turns to the only female voice of reason she can find, the foul-mouthed Trish (Chelsea Handler), while they turn to utilizing their super spy tools to spy on Lauren and gain a crucial advantage. May the best man win.
The film starts with a spy scenario that ends with a mess of a fight sequence upon a roof with a helipad. This would make Paul Greengrass’s head spin it was so incoherent, and it also treated me to the first black screen scene transition, a disturbing element that crops up again and again. Those might not be so jarring if they didn’t last an entire second each time they occur. Totalling about 15-20 seconds, it gives the entire film an amateurish tinge, which it is anything but. Directed by McG based on a screenplay by Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg, the film clearly has some money behind it. Grabbing two of Hollywood’s rising stars in Pine and Hardy should make that clear, and a few times they let it shine through in the set production as well.
One of the few sequences that impressed was one in which the overzealous Tuck attempts to show Lauren he can be dangerous and adventurous during a paintball match. He proceeds to kick, punch, throw around, and generally decimate the poor contestants he is up against. Lauren, of course, has no idea Tuck is actually a spy. So it shocks her to see it while Tuck is clearly in his element. As for Handler’s involvement, she stands as a key element of what the film could have been. At times, this feels like a raunchy romantic comedy. Something destined for an R rating. Yet again and again punches are pulled, until she comes into the scene. They actually re-edited the film after getting slapped with an R rating to secure the coveted mass market-friendly PG-13.
The spy angle is played up while they snoop on Lauren. At one point Tuck and FDR are both spying on her within her home—at the same time. What could have been an interesting showcase of how they would pull off something this daring, it falls back on a lazy use of them being just out of her eyesight, which should be tested for lack of peripheral vision. The cliches start to slowly pile up as they take her on increasingly extravagant dates and throws in some charm here and there to make you think there is some true chemistry going on between the three leads. All of it ends in an exciting flurry that makes you think this is one romcom that won’t wrap up neatly. Instead it goes down a predictable finish, though who Lauren ultimately choose might not be who you expected.
I think This Means War doesn’t qualify as inoffensive fluff. At times it definitely is offensive but it never stays there for very long. There is humor to be had as Hardy and Pine play off of each other quite well, but for the most part it is awkward and fails to adequately utilize the gold mine of a premise. Hardy, Pine, and Witherspoon don’t seem to be simply going through the motions, but I have my doubts that McG gave the same effort. There’s a certain market out there for this film, and it will undoubtedly please those that are easy to please. For the rest of us hoping for something genuinely different and entertaining, it’s best not to observe this war.