I love the spy genre, and I usually like the sub-genre of romantic-action-spy-comedies. It is not a large genre, but it usually creates a fun experience. MR. AND MRS. SMITH is one of my guilty pleasures, if only for the wonderful chemistry between Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt which, obviously, carried over to an off-screen drama. So I came to THIS MEANS WAR not expecting much, but hoping to be entertained.
I watched THIS MEANS WAR (2012) on 1.25.13. It was my first viewing of the film.
I really like what I have seen of Chris Pine. He is in the new generation of charismatic action-star whom I expect to have a long and successful career. Tom Hardy is a bit of a chameleon, and he always delivers a performance which is memorable. Reese Witherspoon is adorable, and very watchable.
So how is this movie so inept?
Ostensibly, this is a romantic comedy about two best friends who fall for the same girl. The fact that they are CIA operatives confuses the situation, but also provides (theoretically) the mode of differentiating this movie from any other movie of this sort. The script chooses to suspend them from operational duty after an opening sequence, so they have plenty of time to sit around the office and concoct ways to try to spoil each others’ romance.
The confounding thing is just how wrong this movie gets it all. Pine plays FDR, a smooth operator who sleeps with a different girl every night. Hardy plays Tuck, a more sensitive young man with, we are led to believe, less game with the ladies (which is betrayed by the fact that he has a son with a woman who, it appears, is a supermodel). Reese Witherspoon is Lauren. She is a consumer reports advocate who doesn’t have much of a dating life after moving to a new city to live with a guy who dumped her.
Tuck discovers Lauren first. They have an instant chemistry and seem to like each other. Then Lauren meets FDR. He acts like a big shot and doesn’t impress her at all with his smooth moves. When Tuck and FDR discover each other’s affection for her, they decide to both give it a shot. In the process they bug her house, spy on her, spy on each other, and use the full effort of the CIA to do all of this. I don’t have any sort of philosophical problem with this, it just all comes across as fairly dumb.
The movie never feels real, and I am sure that is intentional. I made a comment, halfway through, about how poorly directed it all was. Shots are overexposed, every set design is overly bright with primary colors. The CIA headquarters looks like an abandoned warehouse with some plain tables, computers, and a blue filter. Everything, from the characters, to the dialogue, to the scenarios, to the goddamn walls… it all just feels so artificial. It was only after the end credits hit that I realized that this was directed by McG, and that didn’t come as a surprise. He’s seems less than content to just let actors act within a subtle world, he always has to try to make sure people know he is there behind the camera manipulating things.
Pine’s FDR is loathsome. He’s a prick. He’s not likable at all. (Bit of a SPOILER ALERT here, if you care) The film attempts to make him ‘the one’ for Lauren, but in any sensible script he would have been the ‘villain’. He does horrendous and mean things to his best friend (though that is reciprocated) and there is not a genuine bone in his body. It’s not a surprise, given the nature of the movie, that he is determined to be right for Lauren. Neither of these guys are particularly noble or good, but at least Tuck seems to have genuine care for the woman. For FDR, it is all just another conquest.
I loathe this movie the more I think about it. Everything about it is misguided. I could forgive a whole bunch of that if it was just funny, or if the action was breathtaking. Instead, in the opening fight, sloppy fight and camera work let us clearly see punches being missed and kicks not connecting. I thought that was supposed to be McG’s wheelhouse?
There are, halfway through this, a few funny sequences. The best probably involves FDR trying to impress Lauren with his art collection. It’s all a fake, to be sure, but it was one of the few moments I was able to put aside the stupidity of the movie and just laugh at it for what it was. There are some scenes of banter between Tuck and FDR which works on this level as well, but they are few and far between.
I just don’t know that I’ve ever seen a film with such disdain for its female lead. It allows her to be lied to, spied on, deceived, and made to be a trophy prize. Upon discovering all of this, she says okay and lives happily ever after for being mad for less than twenty minutes of real time.
I still truly like all of these actors. Probably what upsets me most is that they had to waste their time and their talents on this thing.
FILM: 1; MOVIE: 5; ACTING: 5; WRITING: 2; BONUS: -1
Some terribly mundane and poorly executed fight stuff in this movie. The choreography feels fake and not dangerous. Quick cuts prevent us from seeing what the hell is going on in several different instances. Nothing like an action-comedy which isn’t really funny and which lacks quality action!
FINAL SCORE: 3