This Means War

You might call it second-tier McG

This Means War


Directed by McG. Starring Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, Til Schweiger, Chelsea Handler, John Paul Ruttan, Abigail Spencer, Angela Bassett, Rosemary Harris, George Touliatos, Clint Carleton, Warren Christie, Leela Savasta, Natassia Malthe, Laura Vandervoort. Written by Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg, story by Dowling and Marcus Gautesen.

It’s “spy vs. spy” the promotional material for McG’s This Means War proclaim. Well, yes, but without any of that spying nonsense. Not to be confused with Mad Magazine’s Spy vs. Spy, this film features two young CIA agents (and best friends) holding a contest to see who can win the affections of a product testing executive played by Reese Witherspoon.

You’ve likely come across this plot in any number of TV sitcoms, which have tidily wrapped things up in less than half an hour. If so, there’s no need to endure This Means War, except for the unlikely novelty of the two men being CIA agents, using untold technology and manpower to win their conquest, and the unlikelier novelty of said conquest being Witherspoon, who seems to lack the kind of raw appeal that might set these men off.

The two agents are FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy), who are on the trail of vague foreign criminal Heinrich (Til Schweiger) and his brother; after a botched operation results in the death of the brother, Heinrich swears revenge. I like how he tracks these two secret agents, based on a piece of cloth torn from Tuck’s sleeve (the tailor knows exactly where this secret agent lives). Seems reasonable.

But forget all that: FDR and Tuck are “grounded” by their boss (Angela Bassett), and spend the rest of the movie stuck in a formula rom-com; Heinrich disappears until the writers are unable to resolve their own story and require a deus ex machina. If you’ve come into This Means War expecting an action movie, you’ve been had.

So the two guys are single, and both meet Lauren (Witherspoon) within a few minutes of each other and become smitten; Tuck finds her on an online dating site, and FDR runs into her at a video rental store (do these still exist?) While talking movies, Lauren dismisses The Lady Vanishes as ‘second-tier’ Hitchcock while praising the director’s 1960-72 period, which might have included Psycho but also featured Torn Curtain, Topaz, and Marnie. Already, she’s on my bad side.

Ultimately, This Means War feels a lot less like a romance between Lauren and either of the men than a romance between the two agents, who monitor each other’s dates with Lauren and even join forces to spy on her when she’s alone. The film spends far more time on their relationship than on either’s with Lauren, which is ultimately fumbled in the most perfunctory way possible.

The buddy-action-romance-comedy genre has run its course with films like The Bounty Hunter, Killers, and Knight and Day, films that have attempted to exploit a number of cross-gender genres in a (failed) effort to appeal to mass audiences. This Means War ranks with the worst of these: it’s pretty abysmal as both an action film and a romance, ensuring no one goes home happy.

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You might call it second-tier McG. For the director who’s made the two Charlie’s Angels films (but also the surprisingly decent Terminator: Salvation), that isn’t a compliment.

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