Tuck (Tom Hardy) is single. He has a young son he looks in on, as time permits, but what he really wants is someone to look at in the morning. At a wedding, when you think he'd be scouting the premises for available women, he looks yearningly at an older couple, well in the autumn of life, dancing cheek to cheek. That's the kind of togetherness he seeks, the kind he seems to have a shot at with Lauren (Reese Witherspoon), a consumer-products tester who knows which brand of detergent is best but whose record with men is somewhat spotty.
After a relaxed first date, where she ascertains that he's not a serial killer (thus operating under the buoyant assumption that had he really been a serial killer, he would have, over a cup of coffee, whipped out his wallet and pointed out pictures of his victims), Tuck and Lauren spend an evening at an amusement park. So far, so fine.
Then comes the scene where he deposits her at what looks like an abandoned circus and urges her to try the trapeze. No, really. In another movie, this would be the point where an alarm went off in the viewer's mind. What kind of thirty-something woman looking to settle down would consider a man whose idea of a fun date is to slice through air clutching a stick before a death-defying drop into a net far below?
But audiences familiar with the work of the director known as McG will know better. On the evidence of his Charlie's Angels films, the altar he genuflects before isn't that of narrative plausibility but narrative propulsion. His philosophy is simple (and stolen from the conveyor belt at an assembly line): Keep things moving fast enough and people won't have the time to think about the groaning sameness of what lies ahead. Those of us who treat This Means War as a McG film, therefore, are already anticipating the subsequent date, where Tuck and Lauren stick their heads into a lion's mouth.
Before that can happen, however, FDR (Chris Pine), Tuck's best friend and cohort at the CIA, has entered the picture as a rival for Lauren's affections. (Neither man, naturally, presents himself to her as an intelligence agent.) FDR is everything Tuck is not — most notably, a smooth operator with women. (In case the audience hasn't already cottoned on to this character trait after his shameless flirting and borderline sexist attitude to romance, we are informed that his idea of seduction music is Sade's Smooth Operator. Subtlety is to McG what silence is to Michael Bay.)
Lauren is unable to choose between the single father who, a predilection for unusual acrobatics aside, appeals to her nice side, and the rake who nudges her naughty side. And it's left to the men to duke it out with the arsenal of gadgetry at their disposal.
Lauren wonders, “Do you think it's possible to love two people equally?” The audience, though, grapples with other questions. Didn't anyone think it was creepy to spy on a woman you profess you're in love with, to the extent of bugging her bedroom? Did the writers realise that they had forsaken the Hollywoodian notion of romance, with its attendant battle-of-the-sexes shenanigans, for the Bollywoodian version, where two men aren't just in love with the same woman but also with each other? (“I love you. You're my best friend,” says FDR, blue eyes blazing, to Tuck.)
I'm happy to report that the answers don't matter at all. I enjoyed This Means War as a low-rent True Lies (high-octane action staged on the verge of a domestic dilemma) enlivened by the smooth competence of its stars, and by Chelsea Handler, who plays Lauren's much-married best friend with sideways longing and a sailor's mouth. (She lives vicariously through Lauren.) This quartet is all the film needs.
Unfortunately, due to the action-adventure demands of the narrative, we are asked to endure a villain (Til Schweiger) lurking in the shadows, in pursuit of Tuck and FDR. The element of danger he infuses into the script, in any case, is hardly as horrifying as the increasingly deranged one-upmanship games of Lauren's twin suitors. With friends like these...
THIS MEANS WAR
Cast:Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Tom Hardy
Storyline:Two CIA agents duke it out for the same girl
Bottomline:Fun (if you don't think too much about it)