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‘This Means War’ a date movie that won’t fill you up

Spy tale offers an odd but fun mix of action, romance

POSTED: February 16, 2012 1:00 a.m.
Kimberley French/AP Photo/20th Century Fox

Tom Hardy, left, Reese Witherspoon, center, and Chris Pine are shown in a scene from "This Means War."

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"This Means War" is a gift for those who haven't yet celebrated Valentine's Day. It's perfect for a couple's night out and works despite being a by-the-numbers mishmash of standard Hollywood devices.

Two best friends, FDR Foster (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy), discover they are dating the same woman, Lauren (Reese Witherspoon). They agree to not tell Lauren they know each other, to not interfere with each other's courtship, and to let the best man win.

The twist is, FDR and Tuck are CIA operatives. They are longtime partners with a bond as strong as brotherhood. And neither adheres to the gentleman's agreement.

FDR enlists the help of some CIA surveillance experts to track Tuck's dates with Lauren, then Tuck responds in kind. Things escalate until we have two small teams of CIA operatives, one working for Tuck and the other for FDR, trying to sabotage each date.

It's a bit like "Bridget Jones's Diary" meets those Spy vs. Spy comic strips. It also owes a great deal to "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," with its combination of shoot 'em up action and romantic comedy. "This Means War" is even lighter than that film, though, which did manage to sneak in a meaningful subtext about the difficulties of married life.

The love triangle eventually threatens to tear FDR and Tuck apart forever (there is obviously a bromance element, too). Meanwhile, a gangster named Heinrich (Til Schweiger) seeks revenge against FDR and Tuck after they kill Heinrich's brother during the opening scene. Heinrich lurks off screen, waiting to reappear during the third act in the most predictable way.

The filmmaking in "This Means War" is inconsistent, to put it nicely. Most of the action sequences are incoherent. "The Dark Knight" is on its way to being notorious for its sloppy action sequences, but "This Means War" makes that film's action look masterful.

During one scene, Tuck and FDR are battling it out with the bad guys, who are driving two SUVs when the scene begins. Somehow, Tuck and FDR take out three SUVs, and the bad guys still have a fourth SUV, which is used to bring the scene to a climax.

That is shockingly sloppy for an experienced director like McG ("We Are Marshall," "Charlie's Angels").

On the other hand, a few other scenes are shot in one long take, each of which features dazzling steadicam movements and complicated staging. I'm not sure how a movie can be shot so effectively at times and so poorly at others.

Oh well. No one is motivated to buy a ticket for "This Means War" by the promise of great filmmaking.

This movie only works because several of the scenes are written well and the primary actors all give funny performances.

The producers owe two supporting actresses a much bigger paycheck than they probably received. Chelsea Handler, playing Lauren's sister and source of love advice, supplies much of the comedy. Abigail Spencer, playing Tuck's ex-wife, provides the movie's only genuine pathos. This is an extremely superficial movie with almost no heart, except for the few scenes in which Spencer appears.

"This Means War" is an ideal date movie. There is nothing at all challenging, so both of you can think about your date more than the movie.

Witherspoon has never looked better and even though the action scenes aren't very good, there are a handful of them. So male viewers should be pleased.

Hardy and Pine provide plenty of eye candy, too, and they spend most of their time doing sweet things to woo Witherspoon's character. Female viewers will probably leave the theater even happier than the guys.

All of this makes "This Means War" very much like a typical Valentine's Day dinner. You want a meal that's savory but not overpowering, and light enough that it won't stay with you the rest of the night.

Jeff Marker teaches film and literature at Gainesville State College. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.



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