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An Awkward Encounter
Kimberley French/ Twentieth Century Fox

This Means War: Film Review

7:09 PM PST 2/9/2012 by Todd McCarthy

The Bottom Line

A month and a half into the new year and already a candidate for the worst of 2012.

Some films have certain scenes that need to be redone, but on This Means War the whole picture should have been sent back for a reshoot. This perfectly dreadful romantic action comedy manages to embarrass its three eminently attractive leading players in every scene, making this an automatic candidate for whatever raspberries or golden turkeys or other dubious awards may be given in future for the films of 2012. It's an eye-roller from start to finish, although the promise of a sexy competition between two CIA hunks for the attention of a man-starved honey might attract some misguided souls. Originally set to open on Valentine's Day, which falls on a Tuesday this year, the Fox release has been hastily rescheduled simply to sneak on Feb. 14 and legitimately bow three days later.

PHOTOS: Movie Stills From 'This Means War'

There is more than a hint of kinship between the eventually violent rivalry that develops here when best buds FDR Foster (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy) both court the very available Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) and the competitive relationship of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, a fact that might have something to do with the contributions of screenwriter Simon Kinberg to both films (this one was co-written by Timothy Dowling). The more elegant ladykiller FDR and brawnier but less refined Tuck are best mates and at first think they can handle the contest, but when it seems Lauren likes them both equally, the claws come out.

From the opening sequence, set atop a Hong Kong skyscraper, in which the two CIA ops stymie an elaborate robbery attempted by Eurotrash crim Heinrich (a scowling Til Schweiger), the action is staged in a manner that is both implausible and incoherent, although perhaps the latter deficiency is deliberate so as to disguise the former shortcoming. In either event, you can't buy what you're looking at for an instant, a problem that unrelievedly permeates the subsequent 90 minutes.

In fact, it gets worse right away, in embarrassing scenes in which the beautiful Lauren runs into an old flame and his fiancee on the street in Los Angeles and pretends she's off to meet her (nonexistent) boyfriend for lunch, then immediately encounters the couple again when she's alone at a sushi bar. Surely a composed and confident 30-something professional woman like her would no longer act like a silly teenager in such a situation.

PHOTOS: 'This Means War' Premiere

To cure Lauren's condition, her so-called best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler) registers her with an online dating site, which is where she comes to Tuck's attention. For his part, FDR tries to pick her up in a giant video store (does such a thing still exist?), but Lauren gives him an initial heave-ho after an argument over the relative merits of Hitchcock films — he having recommended The Lady Vanishes and she insisting upon the superiority of the director's later American films.

Romantic comedies have always generated fantasies of opulent lifestyles for characters with little else to do than pursue their amorous activities, but what the director known as McG puts onscreen in this regard is ludicrously beyond the pale: FDR's apartment, which includes a babe-equipped swimming pool as a ceiling, is insanely extravagant (on a government salary), and the dates to which the boys treat Lauren include a private trapeze session, an exclusive peek at Klimt masterpieces and an outing to a paintball commando park where Lauren uproariously splats Tuck in the crotch with green paint.

Topping things off are two ineptly conceived and choreographed action scenes: In the first, the guys start an all-out fight in a restaurant full of people, but when they finish it's empty, even of staff or authorities who might want to take them to task for their destruction; the second is a car chase, climaxing on a dead-end freeway ramp, that doesn't cut together properly at all, not to mention that what goes on makes no sense from the villain's point of view.

At the center of things, presumably, is Lauren's decision of which man to choose. Her confidant is written in to provide a sounding board and goad her into action, but Handler has been photographed to look practically like Lauren's mom and appears entirely at a loss; the “actress” barely even makes eye contact with Witherspoon and has no sense of creating a character.

The one thing Trish does suggest is for Lauren to give both guys a test drive. But such a move would have pushed the film dangerously into Jules and Jim territory, which might have been the one move that could have provided This Means War with some genuine edge and interest but also would have made Lauren too loose a woman for a mass consumption movie such as this. No risk, no gain.

The three leads do look awfully good doing very stupid things and all will survive to star another day. The sooner this one recedes into the rear-view mirror the better for all concerned.