May the best man win
Critically pilloried upon its release, This Means War should come with a note that says ‘I’m not as bad as you think’ because it really isn’t as bad as its critical reception suggests. Nor does it fulfill its potential either and that’s down to inconsistent characters and a forgettable third act that deflates the film like a punctured tyre.
Pitched as a buddy comedy mixed with Mr and Mrs Smith thrown in, This Means War follows two best friends FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy) as they fall in love with the same girl Lauren (Reese Witherspoon). They also happen to be working for the CIA and once they realise they’re going out with the same girl they duke it out for her attention. May the best man win etc, etc.
There’s a villain in arms dealer Henrich (Til Schweiger) but the film is unconcerned with his actions for the most part. Instead it’s interested in pratfalls, misunderstandings and ‘boys will be boys’ mentality, skewing logic and doing whatever it feels like. That approach works in the middle act as Pine and Hardy use agency assets to try and best one another and it’s this section that feels the strongest , as the film becomes more and more ludicrous, with a paintball scene that’s the strongest, funniest moment the film has.
It’s broad, loud and wacky; the silly atmosphere working for it rather than against until its more clichéd parts hover into view. The film knows what it is and has no aspirations higher than giddy fun.
It wants to be a disposable, forgettable two-hour flick and succeeds just that. Pine and Hardy make for a decent combination but even they can’t make these stock characters entirely believable. The whole cast play hackneyed characters (Chelsea Handler is the abrasive sister to Witherspoon who offers shaky advice), and the ‘seen it done before’ haze starts to materialise before long.
And now we come to the film’s perceived fault, McG. While I’ve never been fond of his filmmaking, his films haven’t been eye-gougingly bad; just populist entertainment that borrows from better films and lacks an imagination. While he keeps This Means War breezy, he’s never as convincing in other areas. His copy-cat nature extends to action which is akin to taking the camera and kicking it about like most derivative ‘shaky cam’ films.
The quick cuts and flurry of limbs is almost indecipherable and annoying. It’s sloppy and in terms of characters he’s just as sloppy. His inattention to the narrative gives the film some baffling character moments with one scene just flat-out absurd, the one glaring moment where the writers/McG make a hash of things and go for movie logic instead of common sense.
It still retains a sense of fun and while it’s lacking in grand thrills (the last action sequence is perfunctory) and it gets by by not trying very hard. It’s silly, undemanding fun and would make for a good date film.