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Movie review: Buddy chemistry overshadows romance in ‘This Means War’

Dennis King Published: February 17, 2012

Bromance muscles out romance in the wildly uneven “This Means War,” a largely dunderheaded date movie that careens between over-the-top, macho buddy bluster and contrived love-triangle antics that are too cute by half.

Tom Hardy, Chris Pine, Reese Witherspoon
Tom Hardy, Chris Pine, Reese Witherspoon

Populated by an impossibly buff and beautiful trio of leading actors – Tom Hardy, the chameleon-like Eames of “Inception,” Chris Pine, the studly new Kirk of “Star Trek,” and one-time America’s sweetheart Reese Witherspoon with her perky Valentine face – the film amounts to an off-kilter effort to bridge the gap between big-bang, hyperkinetic action fare and chipper, chick-flick fluff.

In the hands of the director who calls himself McQ (whose resume meanders from the blunt-force action of “Terminator Salvation” to the campy silliness of “Charlie’s Angels”), it’s an action romance that falters on both fronts – its explosive scenes are too chaotic and incoherent to satisfy action fans and its romantic conceit is too tepid and contrived to win over dreamers.

The set-up is this: Tuck (Hardy) and FDR (Pine) are ace CIA field agents and best pals who, in an action-packed, Hong Kong-set opening sequence, briskly dispatch an international villain named Heinrich (Til Schweiger), James Bond-style, and then turn their attentions to their love lives when they return home to Los Angeles.

Tuck is a lonely-hearts romantic who botched his marriage, lost his true love and is now looking to get back into the game with an online dating service. FDR is a shameless womanizer who seems to take his lifestyle cues from Playboy magazine, circa 1970.

On a parallel track we meet Lauren (Witherspoon), a smart, efficient consumer products tester who obviously could get any guy she wants but for some reason relies on the raunchy ministrations of trashy gal-pal Trish (a zestfully foul-mouthed Chelsea Handler) to coax her into the online dating scene.

The upshot is that Tuck and Lauren are matched up and spend a great evening out on the town. However, at the end of the night Lauren wanders into a jam-packed video store (they still have those?) and has a meet-cute encounter with FDR, who was hanging nearby looking out for his buddy.

Quickly, Lauren, unaware of Tuck and FDR’s friendship, finds sparks flying with both guys. For their part, Tuck and FDR puff up and agree to a mano-a-mano competition to win Lauren’s heart.

So the two suitors employ their considerable spy skills – along with wiretaps, tracking devices and crews of CIA spooks – to chart Lauren’s every move and execute increasingly devious strategies to win her over. Actually, it’s all kind of creepy, in a stalkerish sort of way, but screenwriters Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg (writer of “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” appropriately enough) concoct enough sharp dialogue and amusing clandestine set pieces to score a few honest laughs.

While the lean and sexy Witherspoon certainly holds up her end of things, the film’s best bits seem to revolve around the comic male bonding of Hardy and Pine, who invest their characters with winning doses of cynicism and vulnerability. Both are at ease in the rough-hewn action scenes, and both seem to ooze regular-guy charm in their decidedly sexist competition.

As the title might suggest, “This Means War” is a macho declaration between the two handsome, hunky male leads. Witherspoon seems relegated to playing a lovely bystander in this decidedly scattershot bromance.

- Dennis King

“This Means War”

2 stars
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, Chelsea Handler
(Sexual content, some violence and action, language)


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