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Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012 10:34 am

Lack of focus ruins this War


I’ve always thought that a neat film could be made based on the old Mad magazine feature Spy vs. Spy. There was always a devilish dark edge to the strip that would make for a perfect high-tech, dark comedy. Glimpses of that can be seen in McG’s This Means War, a misguided, mishmash of a movie that attempts far too much and achieves far too little. Like most presidential candidates, it wants to be all things to all viewers. There’s a bit of comedy, a dash of action, a slice of romance and in the end, a whole lot of incoherency.

Reese Witherspoon is Lauren, a high-level product tester for a corporation called Smart Consumer. Living alone for a time while recovering from a bad breakup, her life has become one of focus groups and comparison testing. Little does she know that she’ll have to put her own “either-or” skills to the test when she happens to meet two guys on the same evening, Tuck (Tom Hardy) and FDR (Chris Pine). They just happen to be best friends and CIA operatives who would lay down their lives for each other. However, that is soon put in jeopardy when they realize they’re wooing the same woman and enter into a gentleman’s agreement in which they promise to allow each other to pursue Lauren without interference from the other. Like most promises, this one was meant to be broken.

Problem is, the script by Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg is cluttered with so many underdeveloped plot points and needless characters that by the time the boys begin pulling out all the stops, we’ve lost interest. A superfluous storyline involving a terrorist (Til Schweiger) out to exact revenge on Tuck and FDR bookends the film solely to give McG an excuse to stage one of his many incoherent action sequences and provide a neat ending. Meanwhile, Lauren’s best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler) pops up from time to time to dispense relationship advice and crack wise. The comedienne’s crassness is jarring here and only points to the fact that she’s a one-trick pony.

However, there’s a half-hour of hi-jinks that are quite good. Once Tuck and FDR begin sabotaging each other’s dates, the film is quite effective in delivering some genuine laughs as well as imaginative surveillance set pieces. This is bolstered by the chemistry between Hardy and Pine, the former ably filling the straight man role while the latter proving surprisingly effective in light comic moments.

Unfortunately, these moments peter out and are undone by a ludicrous conclusion. Equally problematic is that while the film is being promoted as a competition between two men for the hand of a lady, the true title of the movie should be Bromance Interrupted. There’s an obvious homoerotic vibe between Tuck and FDR and in the end, one gets the sense that each goes out of the way to ruin the other’s dates so that they will eventually wind up together again. To be sure, this is a bit heady for such a lightweight concoction but not to worry – like so many plot points in This Means War, it goes undeveloped as well.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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