If the movie Bad Boys featured two white guys in the lead roles it would be This Means War. The only difference between them is the filmmaking mechanics were executed better in the former while the latter encompasses playful and sharper skit ideas.
The first 10 of the 98 minutes, quickly has one getting nervous that this could be another McG stinker. After coming off a horrible directing performance with Terminator: Salvation, the guy goes back to a genre that he has shown glimpses of being able to handle (he directed the Charlie’s Angels adaptations). This action/comedy/romance, well, more like comedy/romance/action requires just a bit of patience. But once the screenplay finds its groove, the laughs pile on.
And much of these laughs stem from the surprising charismatic performances of Tom Hardy and Chris Pine. Both are secret agents with different lifestyles. Pine embodies the flashy playboy, not-care-in-life character while Hardy is the quiet conservative…aside from his assortment of tattoos. One thing they both have in common is they are kick-ass agents with their own unique sense of humors. And they love wearing one-size too small V-neck t-shirts. The duo complements each other well and their timing and chemistry is natural and fluent. When they are separated though, the entertainment levels can falter. The reason they get detached on screen is due to them both becoming infatuated with the same girl in Reese Witherspoon – who is aging quite well by the way. At this point, they both try to stay one step ahead of each other as they have a gentlemen’s agreement not to sabotage the other’s chances in winning Witherspoon’s heart.
Now while their individual scenes with Witherspoon are tired and clichéd; the script remedies that with a nice angle showcasing both guys using their agency resources to gather Intel on the girl, and also keep tabs on each other’s respective progress. Their teams fill in nicely and also project great chemistry with the leads. And the script is aware that each agent knows what tactics the other will use, therefore, an amusing one-upmanship game is injected that also instigates laughing-with-noise moments (hey, at least I didn’t type LOL). Then there’s the times where the camera focuses on Witherspoon and her older sister played by Chelsea Handler. Though it was a nice surprise to see two action movie guys display solid comedic chops, the pro that is Handler steals the show with her hilarious brutal metaphors and candid one-liners. All of this occurs when Witherspoon needs advice and runs to Handler in a decent of amount of isolated scenes when it’s just girl time.
Is there any action? Not really. The opening segment, which introduces the film’s underutilized villain (Til Schweiger), is moving too fast for anyone to care. In fact, the only other action-sequence doesn’t pop up until the final 15 minutes or so. However, that one – centered on a high-speed chase/shootout – is pretty cool in a tongue-in-cheek type of way.
Bottom line, This Means War is funny in a clever, yet dorky, manner. McG keeps this one together behind the lens, despite going over a few rough patches. Even elements such as the mood-setting soundtrack gives some credence that this was a well-thought-out game plan, save for a handful of execution and editing blunders. The team of Hardy, Pine, and Handler elevate a generic script to ideal date movie satisfaction.
For the record, I went solo to the press screening and still obviously dug it.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5