This Means War
I’m willing to give a lot to a premise, but when it comes right down to it a movie has to be willing to meet me halfway. This Means War starts off as a love triangle involving two CIA wetworks agents, and proceeds to go exactly nowhere with it. Preposterous I can get past, but boring and sloppy I just can’t.
So we start with FDR Foster (Chris Pine) and his partner Tuck (Tom Hardy). Tuck’s last name isn’t given, but the script would imply that they’re brothers or cousins or somehow share a grandmother, though no relationship beyond “friends” is ever stated explicitly. Then again, I wouldn’t look to this script as my exemplar of narrative coherence.
Anyway, they’re both in trouble — “grounded” — with their boss (Angela Bassett) after a supposedly-covert operation ends up wreaking havoc in Hong Kong and earning them the enmity of the menacing German “Heinrich” (Til Schweiger), who mostly exists to provide an external common antagonist in the third act.
Tuck has an ex-wife (Abigail Leigh Spencer) and son (John Paul Ruttan), neither of whom know that he’s not, actually, the only travel agent that actually spends all of his time on the road — a quirk of his cover the movie tries, badly, to lampshade. He misses the coupled life, and puts up a profile on an online dating site, where he meets Lauren (Reese Witherspoon). FDR is the opposite: a womanizing club-hopper; he coincidentally also meets Lauren and independently sets his sights on her.
When this becomes clear to the two, they set a gentlemen’s agreement to both date her, and may the best man win. They quickly spiral into using their CIA access to first improve their own pitch to Lauren’s particular likes and dislikes, then to counteract what flaws they learn she sees in them, and finally to sabotage each other’s efforts, until the competition is ready to tear them apart.
Now, it’s just ridiculous to think that they could marshal other agents to assist their seductions, but if the movie would just say that happens and move on, that would be one thing. Instead, it makes motions like they’re trying to tie their investigations into the Heinrich case, which connections are never mentioned again. If the other agents are willing to help without any pretense, why even bring the pretense up to begin with?
It just goes on like this, and it’s beneath them. It’s definitely beneath Reese Witherspoon, who does the absolute best she can with what she’s given, and it shows. It’s beneath Tom Hardy, who feels incredibly out of place. It’s even beneath Chris Pine. The only one who feels in her element is Chelsea Handler as Lauren’s friend Trish, whose take on modern dating sounds like it’s been drawn straight from one of Handler’s own stand-up routines.
Maybe if the action was good, it could be forgiven, but is is just as big a mess. It’s chaotic, with no real sense of location in the fights or chases. Entire flaming car wrecks appear and disappear between shots. The direction isn’t entirely bad — there’s a nice long tracking shot as FDR and Tuck each place their bugs in Lauren’s house while she makes popcorn to the sounds of “This Is How We Do It” — but when the few fancy tricks do work, they feel like director McG — seriously — is trying to run before he can walk.
And once you get right down to it the core premise crumbles like everything else; if Tuck is really interested in building a relationship, why does he go in for cheap, manipulative tricks just as wholeheartedly as FDR does? I think the real answer is that cheap tricks are all the writers and directors know, and they can’t really imagine not using them.
Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.