McG is a director who’s so far scored nil points with his films. After the lacklustre Charlie’s Angels and the sequel Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, he followed up with a disastrous mangling of the Terminator franchise – which became notable not because it was any good (it wasn’t) but because Christian Bale had a hissy fit on set. Can he get off the starting blocks with a little bit of romantic action comedy in This Means War? Well, disappointingly, the answer’s no.
FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy) are CIA Agents and best buddies who end up grounded after their latest operation to apprehend a notorious crime lord (handsome Jack Dee look-alike Til Schweiger) fails. Back at base, sensitive single-dad Tuck logs on to an internet dating site and arranges to meet Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) but by a twist of fate FDR meets her moments later and asks her out too.
When FDR and Tuck realise that they’re dating the same woman, they come to a gentleman’s agreement and decide to let her choose the better man, only for both of them to crack and resort to using the Agency’s gadgets and surveillance teams to sabotage each other’s dates. Torn between the two guys, Lauren turns to her best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler) for advice.
This Means War is a stunningly misjudged movie. Chris Pine is supposedly an uber-charming ladies man but he’s more sleazy than smooth; Chelsea Handler plays up to the crass over-sexed, hard-drinking best friend role, striving for Apatow-esque bad taste but every scene she’s in feels painfully forced; and the duo’s usage of CIA resources to violate a woman’s privacy supposedly to win her heart is more than a little creepy.
The only thing convincing about This Means War is the dynamic between Hardy and Pine, an effusive bromance that has more Ho Yay than Top Gun, an exploration of which would have led to a much more interesting film. But though their bickering leads to some humorous moments, the film is adrift on a sea of bad script writing.
One of the writers, Simon Kinberg, had a hand in Brangelina spy vs. spy flick Mr. and Mrs. Smith which was knockabout fun and This Means War feels like an unsuccessful attempt to emulate that film’s charm. Part of the problem is that it can’t decide what it wants to be and lurches in tone between action and romance. This isn’t helped by McG’s insistence on shooting everything in a distracting colour palette which gives the film the artificial production values of a Bacardi commercial, and action scenes which feel clunky and out of place.
There’s also an uncomfortable tastelessness about This Means War which constantly rears its head – Tuck and FDR squabble over Lauren like she’s the coveted trophy in the Dating Olympics and Lauren in turn acts like a 35 year old teenager. And even if you excuse the two guys’ crass manipulation of her emotions and their creepy stalking (and you may do – this is after all a romantic comedy where a suspension of disbelief is mandatory), the film still fails because she has no chemistry with either man.