Hollywood loves the themes of love and romance around key holidays and this Valentine’s Day is no exception, only the main offering, This Means War,’falters under the weight of what I am assuming is an effort to hit both male and female audience members equally. Working on the premise of action and espionage for the guys and romance for the gals, director McG, and screenwriters Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg, simply fail to deliver enough of either. While I loved the cast, I found the story transparent and trite to a point nearing annoyance.
Best buddies and CIA partners, Tuck (Tom Hardy) and FDR (Chris Pine), live the life of James Bond, both talented spies, but different when it comes to love. Tuck, a divorced dad, wants a relationship and family, while FDR prefers the life of ladies man. Until that is, they meet, Lauren, a pretty product tester, who steals both their hearts. Tuck joins an online dating service, where Lauren’s crazy best friend (Chelsea Handler) has posted her profile, and FDR just happens to meet her at a video store, just after her first date with Tuck. At first neither knows of the other’s attraction to the same girl, but soon it is all out war – and they have a plethora of spy tools at their disposal with which to compete for her affections and to curtail each other’s advances.
The premise has all the right elements for the genre, and there is notable chemistry between the leads, but predictability gets in the way, as does limited scope in the story. Adding a bit of a twist and the action part of the tale, Tuck and FDR are put on desk duty after a covert operation leaves international arms dealer Heinrich (Til Schweiger) seeking vengeance at any cost. So we have a threesome (of the competition sort) and a bad guy seeking vengeance against the suitors for the death of his brother, only this subplot hardly gets any screen time, and is, instead, a poorly fleshed out sidebar, affording Schweiger very little time to show his sinister side and fizzling out with little fanfare. In fairness, there are a few high-powered action sequences and a ridiculous, but quite fun final scene involving a wild chase and gunfire and affording Lauren a chance to save the day with her mad consumer product testing skills, showing up her spy suitors.
Witherspoon, looking absolutely radiant and svelte, is literally sparkling and delightfully perfect for the part of the lovelorn Lauren. Equally pretty Pine brings the same arrogance and good nature that he demonstrates in his other characters and hugely likable, Hardy offers what should prove to be his breakout role as a leading man – that is if his character gets noticed and the movie stays in theaters long enough. Overall their collective talents are wasted on these adorable, but wholly shallow characters. Handler, as Lauren’s best pal, Trish, plays a hilarious married mother, whose life is made fuller living vicariously through her friend. Much like her character on her new television show, “Are you there, Chelsea?’ Handler’s funny comes in some lowbrow crass humor, but I like it. Angela Bassett, looking completely uncomfortable and out of place, has a bit part, making a couple of brief appearances as their unforgiving boss and I found it pretty sad – any character actor could play this inconsequential part and probably with more interest than did Bassett.
Ultimately, McG misses hitting the mark on either storyline here. He infuses this wilder than necessary action sequences poorly with the heart (and it is an ailing heart) of the romance. A two by four to the head has more subtly than does the final resolution to ‘The Means War.’ I will give its writers some credit for the Shakespearean-like rendering of masquerading, mistaken identities and silly twist in the path to love. While they cannot claim originality, they can claim a touch of fun.
I did not dislike This Means War, rated PG-13, but I can’t recommend it for full fare. Some young couples will find it a decent diversion on date night and that’s fine. I truly enjoyed the cast and its campy chemistry. I am placing a C+ in my grade book. It isn’t all bad!