Film Review – This Means War
Here is a film with some genuine humour that works and some humour which flags like a sodden blanket. There’s also romance but, somehow, the two fail to synchronise effectively. If anything, the idea of ‘a chase’ is played out at two levels by two CIA agents who are so bonded that the initial impression is that they are indissoluble blood brothers. The boys, FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy), do chases for a living – as CIA operatives on the prowl for the nasty Russians and Germans. At another level, they each chase the same girl – taking possibility into the realm of improbability.
Still, there is no objection to improbability in the realm of comedy. The plot attempts to explain away coincidence with a layer of plausible detail. For instance, Tuck, who has a young son and a bad relationship with the natural mother, eventually in desperation goes online to It’sFate.net to find an attractive date, after some ribald jocularity from his CIA brother FDR, who brags about being a stud in the relationship department. FDR is so keen on promoting his pal’s love life that he promises to accompany them at a distance of 200 yards, just to be protective of Tuck’s success. Obviously, there is a video shop just beyond the magical 200 yard circumference so, quite plausibly, FDR, while drifting around the aforesaid, meets Lauren Scott (Witherspoon) who is planning on a quiet homey evening with a good film after her date with Tuck. A few scrappy wisecracks between the two of them sets in motion the basic storyline, which focuses on the two friends’ independent pursuit of Lauren, a feisty consultant with The Consumer Products Company.
The two buddies have false facades: FRD passes himself off as a Cruise boat captain, while TUC is allegedly a travel agent. Neither of them looks in the least convincing in those personas. Meanwhile, they perform Peter Pan antics while stalking bad guys, working well with each other to protect each other and achieve the objective. Unfortunately, they fluff an assignment in Hong Kong and are side-lined and benched by their boss, Collins (Bassett). It is during this sedentary and somewhat boring phase of their lives that their thoughts and hormones turn to sex and relationships, in that order.
Enter Lauren Scott. Seemingly successful, Scott is a mouthy, optimistic go-getter, whose success deflates like a limp balloon when she meets former beau with a fiancée on his arm. Bragging about her boyfriend Ken, she retreats to a fast-food joint where Ken seems to be a greasy Oriental gentleman, working like a demon behind the counter. The comedy takes a painful turn when boyfriend Steve wanders in with his female appendage to discover Lauren alone at the counter while Ken brags naively that, as a customer, Lauren always pitches up alone.
Her trashy but well-meaning best friend, Trish (Handler) mostly offers ghastly advice how to handle relationships. Nevertheless, she does do Lauren the favour of promoting her, with unseemly and inappropriate ‘pics’ depicting her as a sex goddess, on – you guessed it – It’sFate.net.
The success of the film would be considerably reduced without Reese Witherspoon, who seems tailor-made for the role of Lauren. In Election, with Matthew Broderick, she played an ambitious senior, Tracy Flick, determined to wrest the political rewards of student leadership from a host of stereotypical contenders. The same sassy attitude, positive drive, and articulate quick wit are part of Lauren’s character; her appeal is actually intellectual and mental stimulation rather than erotic. Frankly, the two male contenders for her affections left me somewhat cold: FDR seemed to ooze cheesy charm which would fool no woman with an IQ over 50 and Tuck, who seemed smaller and skinnier, had an atrocious British accent, which is a sure switch-off these days. In addition, he seemed to have a problem shaving properly; the designer stubble (or whatever it was supposed to be) was at worst physically repulsive and at best irritating.
Lauren, of course, cannot believe her luck that two – not just one – eligible young men are pursuing her with gay abandon. She abandons herself to the thrill of the chase. Since a strong motivator initially is to thwart and cock-a-hoop at former lover Steve( the one with the female appendage) Lauren does not stop often to question the ethics of her behaviour; with a friend like Trish, pouring bad advice into her ear like warm oil to cure deafness, she doesn’t really stand a chance.
It IS funny that the two pals now become, by degrees, deadly enemies and competitors for Lauren’s affections. They do not worry about ethics when they harness the entire surveillance resources of the CIA, both technical and human, to track, spy, and report on Lauren’s movements. They become chameleons, adapting their personalities unrealistically to maximise their appeal, after Lauren has expressed criticism of their respective characters. When FDR is pronounced charming but flaky, he’s off to the Animal Hospice, with Lauren in tow, to acquire a twelve-year-old mutt with a milky eye. When Tuck is pronounced gentle and kind – but a bit boring – then Lauren is dragged off for deadly paintball games in a jungle setting.
“Pain is just weakness leaving the body,” appears to be a motto of sorts for the boys. When the pain becomes personal, they wreck a restaurant to make a point. In the tradition of all good comedies, there is a happy ending and we are brought full circle when they return to their professional activities pursuing Heinrich, the Hong Kong escapee. With Lauren’s help, they are entirely successful. Some well-placed advice from Lauren makes it perfectly clear that she will be an asset to a CIA operative; she, too, will have some creative ideas for the chase.
This means War is a largely harmless comedy, spoiled occasionally by some tasteless smutty dialogue. In the main, though, there are some reasons to laugh and little time to think seriously in a film which is fast-paced, where action is drowned by pulsating music, and dialogue comes with the rapidity of a machine gun. It is guaranteed that you will not fall asleep in this film.