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This Means War Toes The Line Of Clever/Stupid, Ends Up Stupid

This Means War
Directed by McG
Written by Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg from a story by Dowling and Marcus Gautesen
Fox, 2012

Director McG is sort of put in that category of Brett Ratner and Michael Bay.  Put a movie in his hands, and watch the disaster occur before your very eyes…but usually the movie is profitable.  McG hasn’t directed many movies: two Charlie’s Angels, We Are Marshall, and Terminator: Salvation.  He’s made his name mostly as a TV producer over the years with shows like The O.C. Despite all the naysayers around me, I kinda liked Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, because it was so unrepentingly ridiculous, and knew it.

This Means War has all the elements of being that same type of thing.  Two CIA spies duking it out over the same girl, and abusing their power as agents to make things work.  It’s like There’s Something About Mary meets True Lies, Mr. and Mrs. Smith (which writer Simon Kinberg wrote and produced), and MAD’s “Spy Vs. Spy.”  FDR (Chris Pine, who by the way gets his second dose of the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” after Star Trek) and Tuck (Tom Hardy) are on a mission to stop bad guy Heinrich (Inglourious Basterds‘ Til Schweiger).  As movie spy duos do, they make a mess of the mission, and it’s really not their fault, but still, their boss (Angela Bassett) has to give them the “You guys suck at life and are horrible at your jobs” speech.  Heinrich is out in the open and his brother is dead.  They’re grounded.

So, they have a lot of time sitting at their desks to think about their lives.  And suddenly, the urge to procreate gets in their heads, much thanks to FDR’s grandmother (Rosemary Harris).  Tuck already does have a kid, but he screwed up the relationship with his ex (ridiculously hot Mad Men alum Abigail Spencer), in what is hinted at that he was “too boring,” because he had to pose as a travel agent during their time together.  Tuck decides to join an eHarmony type of website to find a girl.  Luckily for Tuck, product tester-outer Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) is on the site, thanks to her horny friend Trish (Chelsea Handler, playing pretty much Chelsea Handler).

So Tuck meets with Lauren and it goes well.  She’s excited.  She’s so excited that she’s going to get herself a DVD!  Who would be there but FDR, actually making no secret of the fact that he’s prowling for chicks in the video store.  Lauren isn’t buying FDR’s crap, but he ends up finding a way to get her to go on a date with him anyway, by being annoying, and not knowing that this is the girl that Tuck has met online.

This is one of those things that happens so fast that you can’t say, “Now wait just a fucking minute.”  FDR and Tuck are close buddies.  But somehow in the span of 24 hours (or 2 minutes in movie time), Tuck has joined a dating site and has already found a gem like Reese Witherspoon, and doesn’t show FDR a picture of her or anything.  Which we all know is total nonsense.  Yeah, they make it seem like Tuck’s joining a dating site was embarrassing and he didn’t want to say anything, but once the cat is out of the bag, don’t you think this friend would be like, “Holy shit, I hit the jackpot!  I’m going on a date with Reese Witherspoon, er, Lauren!”  Of course the idea that she would go to the exact video store and find the guy not charming and then just somehow go on a date with the guy just because he holds her hostage a bit later is another thing, but I’m willing to forgive that a little bit.

So, not long after, Tuck and FDR show a picture of the girl they’re dating, realize it’s the same girl, and then go on CIA missions to try to be the best man, by doing creepy things like spying on her to figure out what she likes and dislikes.  Meanwhile, Lauren feels guilty about dating two guys…but here’s a thing.  She feels guilty way too early.  At the point where she’s gone on one date with Tuck and hasn’t even gone on her forced-date with FDR, she’s already whining to Trish that she feels guilty.  Even though she’s only agreed to go on the date with FDR to shut him up and doesn’t expect anything to come of it, she’s already broadcasting her “moral dilemma” to the audience.

So the movie becomes a series of date and counter-dates, and when Lauren decides that it’s time to sleep with both of them, that’s when the friendship takes a back seat and CIA ops come into play.  Oh yeah, and remember the bad guy Heinrich?  He’s still around somewhere, and he’ll make some ham-handed attempt to introduce himself into this love story and make Lauren ultimately choose.

The problem with most love triangles in movies is that one piece of that triangle is usually so unlikeable that the choice is much too clear, making the idea that those two people ever fell in love in the first place hard to fathom.  I always hearken back to Titanic, but the subject of class and the times always comes up with that love triangle, how Rose was basically forced into her situation…but it follows the model of all movie love triangles.  We score points for This Means War making two eligible guys likeable and you don’t know who you want to win.  Which is kind of like what Tom Hardy went through in Warrior.  We liked him and his brother.  Who did we want to win?  And why?

The movie doesn’t cop out.  Lauren makes her choice.  But the choice seems to be for a convenient movie plot development more than what we’ve actually seen on screen.  Also, know that this choice is made after the character has lied to her and put her in danger.  Although, I guess, well…that happens.

Overall, I like the actors, I think the movie has some moments here and there, and I especially liked Tom Hardy’s over-the-top domination of a paintball game.  I’m pretty sure there are people who are dead, lying motionless after that paintball game, and it’s the movie’s funniest scene (punctuated lamely by Lauren’s “If the world ever gets taken over by paintball people, I’ll feel safe!).  This Means War could have used a lot more of that type of scene, actually, without the stupid line.  And that’s where the movie fell for me.  It just didn’t realize what it had.

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