Film Review: This Means War

Two top CIA operatives, Chris Pine and Tom Hardy, end up competing for the same woman, Reese Witherspoon’s product-testing Lauren. Cue Lauren – who is working under the assumption this is a rom-com – tossing her luxuriant blonde locks and fretting over which man to pick, with advice from her brash friend – who wandered in from a gross-out comedy. Meanwhile, playboy FDR (Chris Pine) and goo-at-heart nice guy Tuck (Tom Hardy) flagrantly misuse CIA resources as they try to win the heart of the fair lady and prove they aren’t really, really gay.

At the same time Til Schweiger’s terrorist Heinrich is taking his menacing duties very seriously, perhaps hoping for a role in the next Bond film. He only gets a few plot appearances, but he is quite Teutonically threatening when he’s there.

Other than Heinrich, who you just feel would be happier in a Gerard Butler film, the mismatched genre shenanigans of the rest of the cast are actually fairly amusing. Lauren fusses over a bit of green in her teeth and has a moment with FDR’s gran while Tuck and FDR break into her house to plant bugs and Heinrich earnestly menaces a tailor in a badly lit room. (If that man tries to do any tailoring in there, he will ruin his eyes.)

A lot of the big funny moments are already familiar from the trailor, but there are a number of lower-key witticisms slid in that rouse a chuckle from the audience. The CIA support personnel provide great commentary – including a frantic ‘Are we recording this?’ when FDR reveals an embarrassing childhood story – and Hardy gets the best lines as Tuck. Poor Pine rather drew the short straw as FDR, who gets emotional growth rather than crack-up opportunities.

OK, the film isn’t going to change the way you think about yourself or those closest to your heart. On the other hand it is fun and easy-going and Chris Pine and Tom Hardy are charismatic, engaging leads.* And they have a great onscreen chemistry as bickering best mates Tuck and FDR, whether it is the bromance hugs or the pathos when they broke up.

Unfortunately, despite Reese Witherspoon being just as gosh-darn cute as she can manage, director McG never really establishes Lauren as more than a convenient foil for Tuck and FDR’s rivalry. There’s very little concrete to her character, with her flip-flopping from lovelorn, socially cursed goof in jeans and sneakers to the challenging, polished flirt in short skirts and sky-high heels. People aren’t simply one thing or another, of course, but everything we see of Lauren seems a reaction to one of the dominant figures in her life.

Combined with the fact that there’s not that much bro in Tuck and FDR’s bromance – they made a way better couple too – it makes the romantic plot a bit…saggy. Particularly since we are meant to see Tuck as the safe, home-body option while FDR is the Bond-esque playboy. Pine is a good-looking guy, and gives good intense stare, but Hardy is five miles of bad boy road. Tattooed, bad boy road.

Give Hardy his due, he does a good job of showing Tuck’s softer side with his longing for romance and his relationship with his son, but he’s still a tattooed brick wall of muscle punching people. Expecting the audience to buy into FDR as the raw and dangerous one of the two is pushing the suspension of disbelief just a bit.

They could also do with being a bit clearer about Kate. I’m not giving too many spoilers, but it turns out Kate isn’t related to FDR. Knowing this will save you some ick over a near the end comment.

Whether you think Tuck and FDR would make a better couple than Lauren and…whomever… aside, this is a fun movie with a few fairly witty moments and lots of slick slidy, punchy fight scenes.

*I liked FDR and Tuck, but the stalking and CIA level manipulation of Lauren was verging on creepy from the wrong side of the verge. Even if you do look really good dressed in black and ninja’ing your way about, it isn’t romantic to break into the object of your affections house to bug it.

 This Means War can be seen at the Moviehouse from March 2.