Hollywood's been trying to crack the action-movie romantic comedy nut for years, mostly without success. It's not easy, because you need action sequences that are badass enough for fellas without putting off their dates and romance that keeps the ladies living the dream without putting their men to sleep. I know, those notions play into the demographic stereotypes that more often than not doom projects like, say, The Bounty Hunter and, even worse, Killers.
So, you're permitted some skepticism when it comes to This Means War, the love-triangle action-spy flick that hits theaters on Friday, Feb. 17—especially when I give you the one-sentence premise: Two best-friend secret agents fall in love with the same girl. Oh, and it's directed by McG, who made Charlie's Angels (guilty pleasure) and the latest iteration of the Terminator franchise, which was just guilty of being lame.
This Means War is just as stupid as it sounds, but it masks its inanity with some humor and charming performances by very good-looking people. In the film's opening moments, deadly and sexy CIA spies Tuck (Tom Hardy) and FDR (Chris Pine) take on Euro-terrorist Heinrich and his band of Die Hard castoffs amid a glitzy party atop a Hong Kong skyscraper. Almost everyone ends up dead, including Heinrich's brother, but Heinrich—whose scheme is never explained— gets away, and now his only goal in life is to take down the dudes who took down his bro. This was supposed to be a covert mission, but since it ended with public violence, Tuck and FDR are assigned to ride desks in the L.A. office, where they're occasionally harangued by their boss, Collins (Angela Bassett in a paycheck role).
That's where Tuck, a lonely dad separated from his wife, joins an online dating service and meets Lauren (Reese Witherspoon), a lonely workaholic who's been signed up by her only friend, Trish (scene stealer Chelsea Handler). The two hit it off, but immediately after their first date, Lauren bumps into FDR in a video store, and soon she's involved with him, too. Though Tuck and FDR are BFFs, each is more than willing to overlook the friendship and the Constitution in order to keep tabs on the girl and keep the other guy from getting to her. Meanwhile, there's that pesky sociopath gunning for them.
This Means War has plenty of problems (video stores barely exist these days, Hardy plays a British CIA agent, etc.), but the biggest issue is that the main story— the bad guy wanting to kill them—keeps intruding into the love triangle. That part—two men fighting over a girl—should be the frosting rather than the cake, but it's far more entertaining than it should be. Hardy and Pine are both charmers, and they riff off of one another nicely. The chemistry between Hardy and Witherspoon works, too, certainly more genuine than what's going on between Witherspoon and Pine.
FDR and Tuck have their moments, but for secret agents, they leave a not-so-secret trail of destruction and dead bodies everywhere they go. No, the reason This Means War succeeds in its frothy appeal is Witherspoon, who hit the big time in comedies like Election and Legally Blonde before winning her Oscar for the dramatic biopic Walk the Line. She still knows comedy, and she's what you'll love about This Means War.
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