Counterprogramming is usually an effective tool for film studios to utilize. In a summer of sci-fi blockbusters and action movies, when a romantic comedy like “The Proposal” or “Wedding Crashers” is successful because of a dearth of that genre in the marketplace, studios take notice.
Yet, when it comes to combining an action blockbuster and romantic comedy, the results have varying degrees of success. While the 1994’s Arnold Schwarzenegger film “True Lies” deftly mixed the two for an entertaining crowd pleaser, recent films like the Katherine Heigel and Ashton Kutcher vehicle “Killers” fell short.
“This Means War,” starring a bevy of talents in Chris Pine, Reese Witherspoon and Tom Hardy, falls squarely between those two titles. Neither a truly successful film nor a complete failure, “This Means War” seems content to be simply adequate.
Following the love triangle that evolves between CIA operatives Tuck (Hardy) and FDR (Pine) and a spritely workaholic named Lauren (Witherspoon), things become competitive between the pair when they use every gadget at their disposal to win Lauren’s heart. Tuck and FDR are also best friends, and as the film rolls along, the strain of the triangle takes a toll on their friendship and work.
At times, “This Means War” attempts to provide an insightful look into relationships to go along with its flashy action-set pieces and gross-out humor from “Chelsea Lately” star Chelsea Handler. Yet what the film does best is entertain its audiences by showcasing the acting powerhouse it has in the four talents at play.
Early scenes meant to highlight Tuck and Lauren’s shortcomings with relationships, like an awkward exchange between Lauren and a former love interest, fall flat way too early in the film. This is all until Tuck and Lauren meet through an online dating service, setting up for a scene in which Hardy and Witherspoon have a real chance to show off their acting chops, as well as create some solid chemistry.
Unfortunately, that chemistry doesn’t last long as Pine’s character FDR is thrown into the mix, sparking the espionage highlights that ensue. “This Means War” makes great use of a soundtrack, boasting the likes of Montell Jordan’s hit 1995 single “This Is How We Do It” – when really, at times, it should have been playing The Police’s stalking ode, “Every Breath You Take.”
The film’s twists and turns are at times unbelievable, as Tuck and FDR utilize gadgets, programs and government personnel to keep an eye on Lauren and uncover all of her interests. The tactics are playful at first, but when the film attempts to get serious with its romance, in scenes like a visit to FDR’s picturesque family estate, the romantic elements just feel forced and creepy.
The ensemble here is what makes “This Means War” a passable effort from “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” and “Terminator Salvation” director McG, who directs the film’s best moments as if they were a music video. While it’s enjoyable to watch the stunning Witherspoon interact with her handsome suitors, it’s even better when McG sets it to music.
The brief moments of excitement don’t always last, though, as the film’s script manages to insert a ham-fisted plot revolving around a vengeful arms dealer played by “Inglourious Basterds” actor Til Schweiger that is casually forgotten throughout the film. Well-known actors like Angela Bassett and Rosemary Harris also make appearances, only to be dispensed moments later and never fully fleshed out as characters.
The film plays fast and loose with its narrative structure, never choosing to resolve gaping plot holes and temporary bouts with logic because it’s too busy entertaining with occasionally thrilling action and romantic theatrics. If McG was looking to make one feature-length music video, consisting of all style and mostly no substance, he may just have achieved that preposterous goal.
“This Means War” is positioning itself as the movie to see for those looking to make up for missed Valentine’s Day dates, which is fitting, because as a throwaway date-night movie, it works. It’s mostly charming, features a cast of interesting and attractive talent, with a good amount of fun and laughs to be had.
While many will ravage the film for its numerous shortcomings, in an age where loading up romantic comedies with familiar faces in films that ultimately wither creatively is the norm, this is a semi-respectable effort. While Lauren’s decision between the two gentlemen is executed poorly and is ultimately frustrating, there’s enough of an entertaining movie before it to suffice those looking for a romantic film this weekend.