Review: This Means War Chooses Charm Over Story

Imagine you lead a charmed life. You have a rugged handsomeness about you, or alternatively an elegant grace, and people go out of their way to help you in all your pursuits. You don't need a library card to borrow books, someone else always takes care of lunch, and your Netflix queue is curated by a team of well wishers who only want to see you happy. This would be a good life, no doubt, though there would be something potentially sinister going on underneath the surface. You see, somewhere in all this forward momentum for your desires you'd lose something vital, call it motivation, drive, or ambition, and you'd simply become a person of style and smiles. This is This Means War. It is also a very long opening paragraph.

The film's premise is clear from the trailer, poster, title, and font choices. MAN vs. MAN for a WOMAN. You haven't heard of anything like that in around twenty minutes, right? The difference is where most films would simply cast Channing Tatum, this one went the extra kilometer and employed Chris Pine. Where every other movie would call upon Jude Law, this casting director screamed into a phone, "Get me HARDY!" And when the most obvious choice possible for the role was Reese Witherspoon, This Means War decided instead to go with Reese Witherspoon, just to throw us off the scent! Sure, that last example doesn't totally work, but the point remains, This Means War is at least 67 percent innovative where the charm factor is concerned, and this is what inevitably carries the entire enterprise. Without these delightful leads you'd have an amorphous goo, as opposed to what comes off as a perfectly pleasant rom-com. But that's getting ahead of ourselves.

Tuck (Tom Hardy) and FDR (Chris Pine) are C.I.A. "agents" in the movie sense of the word. They are (evidently?) independently wealthy, drive fast cars and kill bad guys. They are also partners, and best friends, but again only in the "movie rom-com lead" sense of the word. They are close because the script suggests they are close, we don't have all day here, move it along. Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) is a confident, successful product tester who often hosts focus groups.

Aside: why are the women who can't find men always hard-charging career ladies? Why aren't they ever deadbeats? Where are the men out there to whom a successful career is a "deal breaker"? I don't think any of that is a real thing anymore, though I tend to live in a fantasy land.

Back to the lecture at hand, Lauren's sister, Trish (Chelsea Handler) feels that Lauren is wasting her life without the sweet sweet lovin' of a good man, so she signs her up for online dating. Tuck, prompted by FDR (who feels he doesn't get out enough), sends her a date request. FDR accidentally meets her out in public as he seeks to protect Tuck from getting hurt during the date. It then becomes a stand-off, between friends, as to who will get the girl. They both develop feelings for her, with Chelsea Handler providing the commentary. Aaaaaaaaand scene.

Now, if you've ever seen a movie before, you can recite many of the bits before they even happen. There will be surveillance gags. Paintball is going to occur. Along the way the friends are going to get perturbed with each other, and the competition is going to get fierce. Who will Lauren choose? The "smooth operating" FDR? Or the more sincere and sensitive Tuck? Which is precisely where The Means War can't simply get by on its substantial charms, as the structure of the piece is so formulaic that even Hardy & Pine can't rescue every minute of it. But an hour? An hour twenty? No problem. Sure, Hardy & Pine never exactly "save" this film from its own internal flaws, but they can certainly make you smile, fellas and ladies alike.

Grade: C+