Dir. McG, USA, 2012, 98 mins
Review by Matthew Rodgers
The romantic spy-caper hasn’t been the most successful sub-genre to emerge during Hollywood’s increasingly desperate quest for originality. Knight and Day went missing in action, Killers had its comedic licence revoked, and even the commercial success of Mr and Mrs Smith couldn’t hide the shortcomings of that particular uninvolving star vehicle. Calling the shots this time is a director who sounds like a low-rent fast food chain, McG (Terminator: Salvation, Charlie’s Angels 1 & 2). He is a man who has been playing with similar themes during the now defunct but utterly charming TV show, Chuck. Here he has at his disposal one of the most bankable female leads around in Reese Witherspoon, and two up-and-coming young franchise stars in Chris Pine (Star Trek) and Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises). So is This Means War the rom-spy-com that we’ve all been waiting for?
Foster and Tuck (that’s about all we get to know about them, not even a first name) are two ridiculously good-looking CIA agents existing in a world in which everyone is ridiculously good looking. Foster (Pine) is a ladies man, a guy who’s “only interested in a one-night rental”. Tuck (Hardy) is a divorced father-of-one and more of a sensitive soul. So in another huge suspension of disbelief they each encounter marketing girl, Lauren (Witherspoon), who unbelievably cannot secure a date and the guys kick start a personal and professional war to win her affections. Oh, and there’s a wholly inconsequential and clumsily clichéd terrorist revenge plot to provide some final reel pyrotechnics.
Such a dismissive synopsis may suggest a scathing review to sit nicely with the avalanche of negative reactions from across the pond, where the film has been mauled. Wrong. This Means War is inoffensive fluff, which will no doubt be forgotten within hours of leaving the cinema, and never fully utilises the impressive cast. But I’ll be damned if I didn’t have a bloody good laugh at the breakneck paced plot, disposable action, and comedy set-pieces. Shoot me down, if you wish, for putting aside critical snobbery and liking something so lightweight, but this is high octane, dictionary definition Friday night entertainment and as long as that’s all you expect, then there’s fun to be had.
It’s all down to the performances of the lead actors. It’s nice to see Hardy sans guttural drawl, tackling a likeable character for once. His chemistry with Pine anchors the movie’s most successful scenes, as they attempt to outdo each other with some questionable surveillance methods. Their relaxed exchanges consistently hit the mark.
That’s not to say that Witherspoon doesn’t get to have some fun. The Montel Jordan accompanied infiltration of her house is about as inventive as the direction gets, even though McG is struggling a bit here, but her infectious enthusiasm carries the scene. The real star is someone whose name doesn’t appear above the poster:US comedy veteran, Chelsea Handler, whose barbed honesty is afforded the film’s best lines.
Essentially this is a live action cartoon, taking place in a world in which actions have no consequences whatsoever. You just have to embrace the stupidity of it all, ignore the lacklustre ending, and hopefully you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.