Movie Review ~ This Means War

The Facts:

Synopsis: Two top CIA operatives wage an epic battle against one another after they discover they are dating the same woman.

Stars: Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, Chelsea Handler, Angela Bassett

Director: McG

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 98 minutes

Random Crew Highlight:  Stunt Driver: Reese Witherspoon  ~ Laura Lee Connery

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  If you find yourself staring at the movie listings come Valentine’s Day deciding between This Means War and The Vow…choose wisely.  Taking The Vow will get you two hours of treacly mooning by its two stars in a seriously disappointing feature.  If you choose to go to War you’ll get a healthy dose of action with your romance/comedy on the side.  With a light hand and a perfect running length War is a nice diversion from your typical cupid-fare and while it’s no classic, there are worse ways to spend 90 minutes.

Action director McG may not be the first name (last name?) that comes to mind when you think romantic comedy and that’s precisely why he’s an inspired choice to have helmed this pic.  He gives the audience equal parts action and romance that winds up leaving the viewer satisfied and satiated.  The whole film is glossy and slick with nary a hair out of place, shirt untucked, or tan unsprayed.  Witherspoon should hand over much of her paycheck to the cinematographer – he’s made her look like a million bucks.  She’s always had a convenient beauty to her but she really is showcased well as a beauty that for some reason can’t find a man (only in the movies, right?)  Same story goes for Hardy and Pine…while they may fall into the himbo category at least their jobs as CIA operatives explain why they may have trouble finding a lady that can deal with the long hours and jet-setting travel. 

The film is a bit different than it is advertised to be with the central conceit of the story not so cut and dry.  Yes, both men are dating Witherspoon but instead of her character coming off as the one keeping secrets they are the perpetrators of the deception.  I continue to have trouble with films that deal with a Big Secret that you know is going to come out and drive a wedge between our leads.  In this film multiple wedges are driven between the three and one wonders if maybe they all wouldn’t be better off with different people.  Who Witherspoon chooses in the end seems a foregone conclusion about halfway through but no matter, the romance often takes a backseat to a thin-as-air revenge storyline involving a German thug seeking retribution of Pine and Hardy offing his brother.

McG knows his action sequence and they are flashy and fun – the kind where a lot of people get shot in the chest but nary a drop of blood is seen or spilled.  As far as action goes, it’s a man’s world with Witherspoon sitting out most of these thwack and smack passages.  It’s only near the end when the film has to race to its conclusion that she becomes part of the mix and even then it’s just being the designated driver while Hardy and Pine do their thing around her.

While the film is mostly a fun affair I have to nitpick at some haphazard filmmaking that shouldn’t occur in a movie with A-List talent and an A-List budget.  Some of the special effects are poorly executed – check out the scene where Hardy drops his son off at his ex-wife’s house.  Clearly they are playing it in front of a green screen…even the mom in the background isn’t real.  Additionally, I know that the film has undergone some reshoots and there is no attempt at continuity with hairstyles.  Handler’s hair grows at least 4 inches and she loses about 15 pounds from one scene to another.

Speaking of Handler, she scores here playing…well…herself and that’s just fine with me.  I’m a fan so was happy to see her onscreen and she’s handed much of the funny one-liners that may have sunk with another actress but hit the mark with Handler’s delivery.  Her scenes were re-edited to give the film it’s PG-13 rating so I’m interested to see what was cut — guess I’ll be waiting for the Unrated Blu-Ray.  Basset appears here in a throw-away role – the kind that she’s seems perfectly content to continue to take.  For an actress of her caliber I grow increasingly disappointed with her work, it’s time for Basset to get a reality check and try on a different role or take a break all together.  It doesn’t help that she looks and sounds more and more like a drag queen with each passing picture.

This ended up being an unexpectedly enjoyable evening.  Sure there are faults and the film raises the white flag near the end but this War could have been pretty ugly and instead is a nice little treat for those seeking an alternative to some of the more serious films playing in theaters now.

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