“Bizarre Love Triangle”
Grade: F (SKIP IT)
A HEAPING PILE of celluloid excrement, “This Means War” is the first bonafide bust of a film released in 2012. Reese Witherspoon walks the line as Lauren, the object of affection for not one but two undercover CIA agents, played by Chris Pine (“Unstoppable”) and Tom Hardy (“Warrior”). Numbly named FDR Foster and Tuck, the men are in Hong Kong and on the hunt for a criminal named Heinrich (Til Schweiger). When they botch the mission, their boss (played by Angela Bassett) demotes the two to desk duty. Enter Witherspoon as Lauren, a product testing exec who, prompted by friend Trish (Chelsea Handler playing Chelsea Handler), joins a dating website and meets Tuck and later, FDR. When the men realize they’re dating the same woman after showing each other Lauren’s picture on their laptops, they make a gentleman’s agreement and begin the love-game: may the best man win. From there, the forgettable plotline involves tranquilizer darts, romantic pizza dinners, and one image that aptly mirrors the film itself: a car going off an unfinished bridge.
“This Means War” is directed by the mononymous McG (“Charlie’s Angels”) from a script by Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg, the latter of whom wrote “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” and has basically retooled that earlier script about special agents on the down-low. And speaking of the down-low, the most remarkable thing about this unremarkable romantic comedy is the length to which FDR and Tuck go to get the girl in a film where the real love story is a bromance between two very undercover agents. (The same could be said of Lauren’s closeness to Trish insofar as the film’s strongest bonds are same-sex.) The fact that the men plant bugs and hidden cameras in Lauren’s home to spy on her – or could it be each other? – isn’t just creepy and unfunny but deeply homosocial.
Film critic Manohla Dargis of The New York Times writes that when “the men’s rivalry soon escalates into a spy versus spy shenanigans […] you’re watching a cuddly stalker flick,” but an even more astute angle on “This Means War” can be found in the work of Gayle Rubin who, as queer theorist Eve Sedgwick once wrote, argued that “patriarchal heterosexuality can best be discussed in terms of one or another form of the traffic in women: it is the use of women as exchangeable, perhaps symbolic, property for the primary purpose of cementing the bonds of men with men.” This means that the most curious scenes are those between FDR and Tuck and that, when Lauren enters, it’s not so much war but a bore.
The Times’ Dargis also believes Witherspoon to be miscast, writing: “She’s too calculating and self-contained a presence for most romances.” What do you think: is Witherspoon too feisty for such light fare?