Monday, February 13, 2012

This Means War

I Love You, Man!  (This Pic Shows Whose Gun Is Bigger)

Tom Hardy (left) as Tuck and Chris Pine as FDR in McG's romantic comedy-action film "This Means War". 


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Monday, February 13
, 2012

McG's romantic comedy action film "This Means War", which has special Valentine's Day screenings tomorrow across the U.S. and Canada before launching officially on Friday across North America, is a film that could have been made with two leading Hollywood men from the 1950s.  Imagine Richard Widmark and Cary Grant fighting over Marilyn Monroe.  Or George Peppard and Jimmy Stewart sparring over Audrey Hepburn.  "Love Fights Back", perhaps?

All's not fair in love and "This Means War", starring Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon, who on the film's airbrushed poster doesn't resemble herself.  As Lauren, a products marketing executive, Ms. Witherspoon is the eye candy CIA spies and best buddies Tuck (Tom Hardy) and FDR (Chris Pine) fight over, scanning each other's every move with Lauren on surveillance screens more than they scan Lauren herself.  Both men are dating her, and with the fervor of their envy over each other's exploits you expect a ménage-et-trois (or deux) to occur.  The "War" sex scenes -- edited down after an initial R-rating on appeal to get a PG-13 -- are tame, even if telling crotch views of a bikini mermaid who swims in that impressive pool in the ceiling of FDR's swanky digs aren't.

McG, who directed the nudge-wink frolic "Charlie's Angels" (2000), puts homoerotic tension front and center here, not only between Mr. Pine and Mr. Hardy but also Ms. Witherspoon and Ms. Handler, the latter of whom as Trish asks her sister Lauren to have sex for her when Lauren talks about Tuck and FDR, who are hybrids of James Bond and Ethan Hunt but with senses of humor.  Trish, who should have switched places with Lauren in "This Means War", is satisfied with her once-a-week-in-the-hay-rolling weighty husband -- the opposite of the slender, muscular spies Lauren entertain, but Trish's inner 23 (or 36)-year-old lives vicariously through Lauren, whom she looks a lot older than the year she's supposed to.  Trish, the cheerleader of this film's trysting and fisting, so desperately wants the fantasy life Lauren is tangled and troubled by. 

Ms. Handler, snappy, funny and razor-sharp as Trish, is by far the best thing about "This Means War", a frisky, plastic enterprise fueled by florescence, nourished by neon and galvanized by gloss.  Tailor-made for a bucket of popcorn, McG's breezy, brainless and modestly entertaining spy parody skates on thin ice with a meaningless subplot about a terrorist Heinrich (Til Schweiger, "New Year's Eve", "Inglourious Basterds") whose brother is killed and whom Heinrich seeks vengeance for.  Heinrich appears on the film's periphery and he and the opening scene belong more to "Mission: Impossible 3" than to this comedy.  The action, like Heinrich, is conveniently trotted out when the director fears the audience may tire of the pathetic stalemate between the British Hardy and the American Mr. Pine, who spoof themselves and bicker somewhat amusingly about Sade's "Smooth Operator". 

What audiences may remember most about the duo lead males here are Mr. Hardy's London accent and Mr. Pine's blue eyes, which look as if they will glow in the dark at any woman's command.  The setting has to be right of course, namely when the candle lights have been blown out.  Resourceful or not, these dapper-suited dah-lings operate slickly as fish in and out of water, particularly on Lauren's home turf.  In contrast, the women -- as scripted by Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg -- other than perhaps the cynical Trish, are shockingly (or unsurprisingly) hollow.  Katie (Abigail Spencer), the estranged mother of Tuck's child, suddenly warms up to him late on when she finds out he's not really a travel agent -- never mind that he's been a good father to their son.  For Katie at least, Tuck's status -- not his actions as a man or character as a parent -- appears to mean everything.  And any woman dating both would likely have suspected that Tuck and FDR weren't exactly strangers.

That said, what happened to men's men in cinematic romance comedies anyway?  The males of American romantic comedies on film these days are mainly pretty boys who talk and philosophize more about the art of seduction than actually getting down and dirty in love and war.  What are they afraid of (apart from getting their egos bruised)?  What happened to the directness of the past, the days where men wouldn't have to draw elaborate schemes to get the women they wanted on the big screen, women who very often were clearly smarter than the situations they subject themselves to today?

"This Means War" can best be described as a stop-and-start ballet adventure.  The two diva spies on a frenzied stage are upbraided by a stereotypically abrasive CIA head (Angela Bassett, in loud mode in three scenes about Heinrich, who "War" barely cares about.)  The male spies are essentially engaged in a Mr. and Mr. Smith love war over a woman whose patience and ignorance of these dual male schemers eventually runs short.  When the ballet is interrupted by bullets "War" runs on empty, as do the other events on display.  I wasn't surprised by the outcome of the film; only by how good Ms. Handler was in it.  (She wows on her own nightly television talk comedy show "Chelsea Lately".)  See "War", if at all, for Ms. Handler's often priceless one-liners, just about the only thing the film's screenwriters get right.

With: John Paul Ruttan, Daren A. Herbert, Kevin O'Grady, Jesse Reid, Leela Savasta, Rosemary Harris, George Touliatos, Clint Carleton, John Stewart, Affion Crockett.

"This Means War" is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association Of America for sexual content including references, some violence and action, and for language.  The film's running time is one hour and 38 minutes. 

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