By Caryn James | James on Screens February 14, 2012 at 9:00AM
Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Tom Hardy – any one of them could carry a romance or an action movie alone. Put all three together and the results are at least three times worse. Or maybe it’s just that the director, McG, has misplaced the feel for slick, popcorn action that made Charlie’s Angles fly. Whatever the reason - and we can’t ignore the abysmal, cobbled-together script - This Means War is a mess of an action romance. Witherspoon plays Lauren, a workaholic unaware that her two competing boyfriends not only know each other, but are best friends and partners in the CIA. Yes, they’re spies in love, so they spy on her and on each other and ... just go ahead and fill in the rest because it’s all completely obvious.
There is something deeply cynical at the center of this film, and that cynicism is not about romance. It’s about how much imitative drivel movie audiences will put up with. Everything about the film is stock, starting with its premise. Pine and Hardy are named FDR and Tuck; hard to be more contrived than that. As the film opens they are caught in some mysterious adventure that has them clinging to the edge of buildings and shooting at helicopters, all so the film can get in its first action sequence (which actually looks pretty lame) and the boys can be suspended and sent to desk jobs in Washington. D.C.. There we learn that FDR is a callous womanizer and Tuck a sensitive divorced father. But while the characters often mention Tuck’s British accent, no one explains why he’s working for the CIA and not MI6.
Meanwhile, Lauren, who has been dumped by an old boyfriend she keeps running into, takes her best friend’s advice and starts to date again. The best friend is played by Chelsea Handler, who has apparently decided she has a future playing the sad-sack married older friend or sister. It doesn’t work any better here than it does on the sitcom Are You There, Chelsea?
Lauren wavers between the men; Tuck and FDR set up surveillance; all three run into each other at a restaurant and glassware flies. Too bad the action and the romance and the dialogue are all so flat. (The screenplay is credited to Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg, though credit may be the wrong word.) And too bad the three stars, so charming in better circumstances, decided to go for something that might have seemed sure-fire on paper but thoroughly wastes their talent. The problem with sure-fire properties is that most of them are tired before they’re begun, and This Means War is beyond fatigued.