This Means War
Two guys, who both happen to be spies, are simultaneously seduced by the same single woman; Antics ensue. That is the premise and hell, pretty much the entirety of this movie, not summed up but stated at full length. It is in other words a much more compressed and much, much more costly version of Chuck, just without any of the computer science jokes: combining as it does comedy, covert ops and cuddling. The most important comparison though is that it also manages to capture that show’s sense of charm; meaning that you just want to cuddle it. This Means War is then A McG movie right down to the core, for both better and worse; in this case, perhaps for the first time, the balance swings more to the former. War is an entirely expected effort that never even attempts to do anything new or exciting, but the formula that this mysteriously named man has followed in each of his few successes is executed near flawlessly here and so the resulting film is fricking fun regardless of its familiarity.
Like the majority of McG’s mostly mediocre movies this film has been product tested to perfection ( a process that the film conveniently contains a lot of): as such it aims to entrap the entire film and dinner date audience by including high-octane action for the boys and hunky guys in love for the girls. It’s obvious now why it received the otherwise rather strange ‘Valentines Day’ Tuesday release and also why it was preceded by a plethora of previews for upcoming Nicholas Sparks novel adaptations, though more on that later. The action scenes are ADD riddled, over-handled and over the top as most these days are ( I think maybe we have made it too easy to create a shoot-out or car chase because nowadays they are just thrown in, almost pre-packaged); they’re empty but still serve their purpose as support while the wit on show in the script steals the show. Yes that’s right, a movie can have guns, good looking people and a script too; they’re not mutually exclusive no matter what most multiplex movies will try to tell you these days.
Though both types of tension, violent and sexual, are present through-ought the picture these two elements are not in balance. This Means War is not a blockbuster but an old-school screwball comedy that just so happens to be set in the skin of one; the spy sections little more than a ruse for the romance. This is the kind of thing that Billy Wilder would write were he working today, a controversial call certainly but one I stand by: he loved inserting his characters into high concepts such as this one and of course there is all that witty banter. The actual writers of this script are people that you would not know by name – Simon Kinberg and Timothy Dowling – but their pedigrees provide a perfect preview of their work here; separately the pair worked on Mr. and Mrs. Smith and last years Knight and Day, two films that resemble this one remarkably and two films that I also enjoyed, though I may well be alone in that. Though it seems stupid on the surface the script at the films spine is actually spectacularly well-written and much more mature than the trailers do tease.
There is even some sort of metaphor to be found within for those who feel the need to look for it: two separate bodies of the government’s security system abuse the power granted to them under the patriot act and surveil the very thing that they love and wish to protect, only to have this corruption cause the thing terror. The commentary is there but no one making the movie really cared about crafting it, so we shouldn’t either. Let’s move along.
Having great lines on the page is only half the battle, what makes and breaks their wit is the way in which they are delivered and by whom. Chris Pine is perfect for his role as FDR; playing these highly preened but unpersonable characters is what he does, and I would argue that here it is what he does best. Tom Hardy on the other hand is a much less obvious choice for this kind of cinema, being as he is a professional and thus ‘serious’ actor; in fact he wasn’t the original choice for the role, but he both owns and embraces the it nevertheless, grounding the film in the process. For while Hardy sells himself as a real-life tough man, tats and all, the kind of guy who might well be a killer; whereas Pine is a perfect cinematic spy, all charm and custom suits. The pair play perfectly off of one another, an outstanding odd-couple that you still buy as chums; they’re charismatic and cocksure in the conflict and keep you peering at the screen. Witherspoon’s work is well done as always and she is a likable enough presence on the screen but she stands in the background of those boys (as she literally does above). Her role is more of a supporting one and thus her commendable comedic talents are wasted, but this is more of a missed positive than anything more pessimistic like a flaw.
Overall This Means War isn’t something special: it’s not the kind of film to be fought over, sought and found or bought and savoured but as a simple experience it is stellar entertainment and sometimes that’s everything that you need from a movie, sheer escapism. So if you’ve got the time and funds to spare, or a guy that’s willing to provide them, then take yourself and your Other to see it and see if you both don’t enjoy yourself. In fact I dare you not to enjoy this flick, the odds of it not happening are equaled only by those of you remembering a single scene or line in two weeks time; but lets face it you don’t want the most memorable part of the date to be the movie, do you?