America’s sweetheart, Reese Witherspoon, dutifully serves as the unsuspecting grand prize in a contest between a pair of lame brain CIA agents out to capture her heart with the sort of chicanery normally reserved for the likes of Osama bin Laden.
Nothing like a Valentine’s Day movie with misogyny on its mind. After all, women are mere objects to be stalked, manipulated and bartered over, aren’t they? Or at least they are in the narrow minded world of McG, the director who’s made a career of infantilizing females in dreck like the “Charlie’s Angels” pics and his latest bit of antifeminist vitriol, “This Means War.”
Standing in the middle of this vituperating vivisection of vaginas is none other than America’s sweetheart, Reese Witherspoon, dutifully serving as the unsuspecting grand prize in a contest between a pair of lame brain CIA agents out to capture her heart with the sort of chicanery normally reserved for the likes of Osama bin Laden.
Her Lauren is clueless, natch; just the way McG likes his women. She’s also unable to find a man, despite the fact that she looks like Reese Witherspoon, which is sort of like casting Mitt Romney as a slum dweller. Just not believing it; just like I’m not buying Tom Hardy and Chris Pine as impossibly handsome spies relying on the Internet and cheesy pickup lines to score dates. Yet, here we find these three “lonely hearts” conveniently converging one fateful afternoon on an L.A. shopping mall, where, in the space of an hour, Lauren is approached separately by the guys, who, unbeknownst to each other, fall instantly in love with her.
Impossible, you say. Yes, but that’s just the tip of the implausibility iceberg “This Means War” slams into on its voyage down a drain clogged with shrill performances and boorish behavior on the part of every male aboard McG’s sinking ship. Even more distressing is how harmless it all seems on the surface; played as slapstick farce executed with blue-eyed charm. Look deeper, though, and things appear a great deal more sinister, as Pine’s FDR (short for Franklin) and Hardy’s Tuck use every spy satellite and drone at their disposal to spy on Reese’s hopelessly unaware Lauren – and each other – in what becomes a contest of one-upmanship. They even break into her apartment, skulking about her rooms and hallways snooping stealthily while she dances around the place in nothing but a long sweatshirt, oblivious of their presence. Now, that’s what I call trusty boyfriend material.
The irony is that we’re expected to laugh at these intrusive shenanigans, as if a woman’s right to privacy is nothing but a lark. But then Lauren’s suitors pretty much view her as chattel anyway to be won in their mano-a-mano battle to see who’s the best man – and who’s the groom. We know almost from the start who will emerge victorious, especially if you’re paying attention to the fella with the best back-up plan if he loses.
Page 2 of 2 - Fully in step with McG’s disdain for women are screenwriters Simon Kinberg (“Mr. and Mrs. Smith”) and Timothy Dowling (“Just Go with It”), who render Lauren as little more than a McGuffin for FDR and Tuck to chase while putting their intense friendship to the ultimate test. And in many ways, “This Means War” is more of a bromance than a romance, being that FDR and Tuck fight, breakup and ultimately get back together. The winner of the Lauren sweepstakes, of course, also gets to enjoy the spoils of Reese’s many gorgeous attributes. So it’s win-win for him, lucky guy.
It’s appalling, yes, but it’s also slickly presented by director of photography Russell Carpenter and production designer Martin Laing, who has created digs for all three principals so opulent that you’re convinced that each lives far, far beyond the means of a CIA agent or a consumer products tester like Lauren. All the better to seduce our poverty-stricken eyes, as McG attempts to lull us into his warped world with style – including a pair of extravagantly mounted bookend action scenes involving a homicidal enemy agent (Til Schweiger) – over substance.
Yes, “This Means War” is easy on the eyes. How could it not be with Witherspoon, Pine and Hardy exuding wall-to-wall beauty and charisma? Alas, our ears don’t fare as well, as they are forced to endure a cacophonous combination of stupid dialogue and stale sex jokes, the majority of which are uttered stridently by Lauren’s requisite best friend played by a miscast Chelsea Handler. Her best line: “You think Gloria Steinem got arrested and sat in a jail cell so you could” pass up sleeping with two men?
The biggest joke, however, is on the audience, especially those members without penises. They, ironically, are the target demographic of this painful paean to romance. But I seriously doubt they’ll be feeling the love.
THIS MEANS WAR (PG-13 for sexual content including references some violence and action, and for language.) Cast includes Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine and Tom Hardy. Directed by McG. 2 stars out of 4.