Film Review: This Means War

Buddy spies vie for the same girl in a loud, pushy romantic comedy.

Encased in a bright, candy-colored shell, This Means War is a relentlessly peppy romantic comedy built around a "Spy vs. Spy" riff about rivals one-upping each other. Short on warmth and ingenuity, the film leans heavily on the star power of its three leads, who may pull their fans into theatres. Others will wait to watch on TV.

After botching an assignment in Hong Kong, CIA agents FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy) are assigned to desk duty in Los Angeles. While FDR continues his womanizing ways, lonely single dad Tuck signs with an online dating service.

Coincidentally, Lauren Scott (Reese Witherspoon), who tests products for Smart Consumer, is having trouble finding dates after breaking up with her longtime boyfriend Steve (Warren Christie). Her sex-obsessed friend Trish (Chelsea Handler) signs Lauren up with the same online service, leading to drinks with Tuck. By another coincidence, Lauren meets FDR renting videos, and later has him impersonate her beau during a sidewalk encounter with Steve.

When they realize they are dating the same women, Tuck and FDR bet over who will land Lauren first. Vowing to play fair, both quickly tap into the agency's resources, planting microphones and webcams throughout Lauren's house and sabotaging her dates through remote-control devices.

The agents are also pursued by Heinrich (Til Schweiger), whose brother was killed in the Hong Kong operation. In separate subplots, Tuck tries to reconnect with his young son Joe (John Paul Ruttan), and FDR's grandmother (Rosemary Harris) tries to teach him the importance of family.

With its romantic-triangle premise and photogenic stars, This Means War has the basic ingredients for a frothy comedy. What's missing is any sense of chemistry between Witherspoon and her co-stars. The romantic scenes are icy enough before the practical jokes and booby traps come into play, at which point the movie just becomes cruel.

In fact, Tuck and FDR display more affection for each other than for Lauren, which might have made for an interesting movie if screenwriters Timothy Dowling (Just Go with It) and Simon Kinberg (Mr. & Mrs. Smith) had to guts to pursue that angle. Instead, they fill out the plot with three well-executed but irrelevant action scenes and a lot of smutty asides from author and talk-show host Chelsea Handler.  Her self-absorbed persona brings the film to a halt whenever she is on the screen.

Director McG works overtime trying to spin gold from the script, staging intimate scenes on gargantuan sets and pumping up the volume at every opportunity. McG has so much money to throw around that he can ignore cast members like Schweiger, Harris and Angela Bassett, basically limiting them to walk-on roles. This Means War may have a beautiful chassis, but its engine does nothing but sputter.