The eyes have it. The plot doesn't.
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, Feb. 17, 2012
"Mr. and Mr. Smith," anyone?
The romaction comedy "This Means War" stars Reese Witherspoon as a woman trying to choose between two handsome suitors.
But as this sloppy, scattered, utterly synthetic piece of Hollywood widgetry unspools, it becomes increasingly clear that the romantic tension at play exists mostly between the men in question.
As super-spies and best friends whose professional and personal relationship begins to fray as they vie for alpha-dog status, Chris Pine and Tom Hardy can barely conceal their characters' longing and heartbreak. Even when the three finally face off in the movie's preposterously ballistic third act, it's the guys who only have eyes for each other.
But, oh, what eyes. Pine - who was so good as the young James Kirk in "Star Trek" that you still can't look at him without thinking of a young William Shatner - possesses a pair of preternaturally aquamarine eyes, so blindingly bright that, when he meets his ocular match in Witherspoon, "This Means War" looks like the Battle of the Baby Blues.
Hardy, the terrific British actor who brought such volcanic intensity to roles in "Bronson" and last year's "Warrior," may not be able to compete with Pine in iris pigmentation, but he more than makes up for that deficit with a pair of pillowy lips that would be too perfect were it not for the charming snaggle-toothed smile they conceal.
Focusing on the considerable physical attributes of the stars isn't superficial but, rather, is the whole point when assessing "This Means War," which exists primarily to allow superior human specimens to prance and preen for the envy and vicarious wish-fulfillment of their fatter, plainer fans. (And any superior physical specimen would do in a project reeking of rote, one-from-column-A formula: Reportedly, Bradley Cooper, James Franco, Sam Worthington and Justin Timberlake were among the actors considered for Hardy's and Pine's roles.)
The eye candy works, to a point, if viewers temporarily banish the need to believe for a second that any of these people would be romantically challenged, let alone work as hot-dog super-spies or, in Witherspoon's case, a consumer products tester.
"This Means War" even has a few genuinely funny moments, such as the visual gags that ensue when Hardy's character - out to prove he's not a wimp - rampages through a paint-ball course with black-ops ferocity.
But from its opening scene of a raid in Hong Kong to the romantic rivalry that transpires back home in Los Angeles, "This Means War" proves to be little more than the canned Spam of the movie world - bland, over-processed and cheap, even when it's spending millions engulfing highways in balls of ludicrous flame. Even Chelsea Handler's role, as Witherspoon's boozy bestie, now seems unforgivably trite. Her jokes about "mommy's special milk" and sneaking screwdrivers into sippy cups are about as edgy as a prime-time sitcom from 1999.
The fact that "This Means War" is as graceless, lazy and visually incoherent as it is can be laid squarely at the feet of its director, McG, the former music video director whose rsum includes the similarly manufactured "Charlie's Angels" movies and "Terminator Salvation." His career at least provides a valuable reminder that the word "hack" didn't always refer to computer monkey-wrenchers.
And his latest movie reminds filmgoers that February is, above all, the month dedicated to what the studios inelegantly refer to as The Dumps.