Men…go see the rom com This Means War.
You read that correctly, I said "men".
At the moment, I am hard pressed to remember a film that blends romantic comedy and action with such balance and panache; it is as much a “guy film” as it is a “chick flick”.
The premise is the standard romantic triangle: two buddies “FDR” (Chris Pine, Star Trek, Smokin’ Aces) and “Tuck” (Tom Hardy, Star Trek: Nemesis, Inception, Warriors, the forthcoming The Dark Knight Rises) vying for the affections of the same girl (Reese Witherspoon). The twist here is that they happen to be crack field agents in the CIA.
Chris Pine transplants his "Captain Kirk" persona into modern day Earth with the character of “FDR Foster” (with a couple of tongue in cheek references to the iconic character Pine has inherited, including his penchant for “intergalactic relations”). He imbues in his character a confluence of rakish charm of both Kirk and Harrison Ford’s “Han Solo” yet Pine plays it with a bit of guardedness. Hardy’s "Tuck" is the more “sensitive” of the two, but has enough macho swagger to balance it out. And one particular scene he makes a throwaway line given to Pine at the beginning of the climax especially poignant. He is a very talented actor, and it is surprising that someone who could play the sociopath Charles Bronson can juggle a role such as this. In their interactions Pine and Hardy have a wonderful chemistry together. It is easy to believe that these two have been practically brothers when you first meet them on screen. The comedy comes mostly from their knack of comedic timing coupled with their game of macho gamesmanship. Their affability offsets the inherent discomfort one would get if one were to sit back and ruminate on the tactics they use to sabotage the other and insinuate themselves in their objective’s graces (misuse of government funds and equipment is an understatement here).
As the object of their mutual desire, this film is an interesting choice for Witherspoon. She may have top billing but her story takes a back seat to that of her co-stars. Yet she makes the most of what she has and holds her own. She defaults back to the plucky persona she’s managed to cultivate throughout her career but refreshingly absent this time is the smug self-awareness that tinged it. She is delightfully lacking in self-consciousness and gives the most natural performance she has in quite a while. Her “Lauren Scott” is competent, self-assured, and slightly neurotic, but none of these are played as stereotype. Complementing her performance is Chelsea Handler. While she is not a revelation as Tom Arnold was in “True Lies” so many years ago, her character is surprisingly nuanced. Her trademark delivery is in evidence but her persona is sublimated to suit the performance, which is marked with a surprising down to earth sensitivity. Rosemary Harris has little more than a cameo in her role as Nana Foster, but she brings a lot more spunk than she did to “Aunt May” in the Spider-Man films. It is easy to see where FDR got that aspect of his personality from.
Sadly, the resolution the love triangle is practically telegraphed in the beginning of the film. If you’ve seen the original Star Wars trilogy then you will know how things will end up. In this case, however, the fun really is in the journey not the destination.
As a director, McG has been blasted for being all flash and having very little, if any, substance. However, with each subsequent outing, his films, while entertaining on the surface, begin to carry with them a little more emotional heft. One important theme in his films (and yes, this includes the “Charlie’s Angels” franchise) is the importance of familial relationships. This film showcases the importance not only of a fulfilling romantic relationship but that of the filial bond as well. As aforementioned, the “bromance” plot line overshadows the romantic one. In showing the agents as adversaries, the audience is treated to exactly why they need each other. They complement each other in a way only real companions can. Yet he also demonstrates why these men would go after the same girl and why she would be torn between the two. Quite possibly, despite the farcical ludicrousness of the proceedings, this may be McG’s most adult/mature film to date.
His pacing of the film is mostly balanced. The quiet moments are almost as gripping as the comedic ones, which come fast and furious and are genuinely funny. Where McG drops the proverbial ball is with his treatment of Til Schweiger as “Heinrich”, the film’s ostensible antagonist in the sense that his scheme of revenge is less than a “C” plot. The audience never feels any sense of jeopardy because his character is hardly present; he is more conspicuous by his absence. By the time he makes his move against the warring agents, it feels like almost a tacked on, deux-ex-machina afterthought. Also egregious having an actress of the caliber of Angela Bassett and give her what amounts to maybe two minutes of screen time as a Starskey and Hutch desk supervisor stereotype; an expositional plot device and little else. It seems as if the only direction he gave her was “do what you did in Green Lantern, but angrier.” The film could have arguably moved along fine without her, which is more indictment of the script than the talents of the pigeonholed Bassett.
This Means War is an almost perfect balance of what Hollywood looks for in its films: a film that will satisfy both genders. As of this writing it is lost in the shuffle of other, bigger budgeted and hyped films and that is to its detriment. Despite its minor flaws, it is a wonderfully executed film that is sure to please both genders and delivers on laughs and action.