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Physical humor, comedic timing justify ‘This Means War’

Movie Review | 3 out of 5 stars

Published: Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, February 28, 2012 14:02

This Means War

The duo’s competition over Reese Witherspoon adds spice to ‘This Means War.’

This Means War

Leads Tom Hardy and Chris Pine make ‘This Means War’ worth watching with their good looks and humor.

If purposely over-the-top action scenes, a plethora of humorous interactions and attractive lead actors aren't enough to balance out a mindless plot or the ethically questionable usage of spy equipment, then "This Means War" (2012) should probably be avoided at all costs.

For anyone who enjoys a good action, comedy or romance flick, this is one of very few films that delivers all three genres. "This Means War" follows two brilliant, lethal and, of course, extraordinarily good looking CIA agents, Tuck (Tom Hardy) and Franklin Delano Roosevelt Foster (Chris Pine), who both happen to fall for the same woman, Lauren Scott (Reese Witherspoon). Meanwhile, an angry and ambiguously evil German named Heinrich (Til Schweiger) is hunting Foster, seeking revenge for his brother's death. Yet that plotline doesn't really seem to matter for most of the film.

The strength of the movie lies in the physical comedy that Chris Pine and Tom Hardy achieve by playing off each other throughout the film. The playful banter between the two charms the audience into rooting for their friendship rather than either of their relationships with Lauren. Yet what starts out as a competition to win her affection inevitably turns into an all-out battle of wills that breaks their friendship and leads to some fairly creepy scenes where they utilize CIA espionage equipment to bug both Lauren and her house.

Clearly, their lives are utterly ridiculous and over the top. To start, Foster lives in an apartment with a swimming pool for a ceiling, through which he can view the obviously attractive ladies that care to take a dip. Their CIA office is overly extravagant and their boss even turns out to be played by Angela Basset, who unfortunately is severely underutilized in the film.

Witherspoon's character is slightly difficult to sympathize with, perhaps because it was so poorly written and slowly developed. To make this point clear, the ending of the film teaches the audience that even though both men have broken into Scott's home, used the privileges of their jobs to run background checks on her and even pretended to be interested in the same things she is, it is still acceptable for her to choose one of them because their charms override all the ethically questionable escapades they've engaged in throughout the whole film.

The action sequences in the film are few and far between. Apart from a short gunfight at the beginning and a pretty standard car chase at the end, the highlight is one of the dates Tuck takes Lauren on to prove he isn't the "safe" option. They go paintballing. Exhibiting awesome martial arts skills that leave children limping off of the paintball field apparently isn't enough to trigger some sort of response from Lauren. Yet when her gun jams, she elicits some mild bewilderment and the scene culminates with a shot to Tuck's crotch.

The random swing from moments of slapstick humor like this to more bizarrely funny dialogue is one of the highlights of the film. When attempting to come up with negative aspects of both of the men she's dating, Lauren says that "FDR has these tiny, like girl hands, like little T-Rex hands," an explanation that Witherspoon manages to pull off in a funny manner, as surprising as it sounds. Her go-to friend Trish (Chelsea Handler) also provides some humor, albeit of the more disturbing and grossly sexual sort.

The plot is predictable, trite and frequently challenges whatever suspension of disbelief the audience can muster. In this way it's pretty similar to most action films and shouldn't be passed off purely because it throws in some romantic comedy elements. What director McG manages to pull together in the end is surprisingly funny, although this is most definitely due to Hardy and Pine's physical comedic abilities and timing.  

Without their completely nonchalant attitudes toward the outrageous stunts and plotlines they walk through within the film, the movie would definitely become a parody of itself. As it is, "This Means War" seems fine with being a parody of most other romantic-comedy-action-chick-flicks, of which there are very few.

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