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This Means War

Reviewed by Greg Frame.

Director McG
Length 97 mins
Certificate 12A / R
Rating **--------
Filmmaking: 1  Personal enjoyment: 1

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I tried very hard to be open-minded about This Means War. I studiously avoided any pre-publicity material aside from the inevitable trailer (which has played ad nauseam in theatres in recent weeks) and the obnoxious poster (which has adorned the side of virtually every bus I’ve seen from Leamington Spa to London and back again). Such effort was in vain, however, because my mind was forced to close again within ten minutes of the movie starting. This Means War is everything that is wrong with Hollywood cinema in the contemporary moment: soulless, nasty, mind-numbingly stupid and crushingly boring. That it was given birth by McG, something of an auteur in this mode of moronic movie-making, is completely unsurprising.

The story centres on a battle between two spies, FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy), over one woman, Lauren (Reese Witherspoon). Best friends taken out of the field after causing a bit too much mayhem while trying to apprehend an intercontinental crook, Heinrich (Til Schweiger, completely underused), FDR and Tuck happen to meet and fall for the same girl. A competition ensues to win her hand, while she spends the duration trying to choose between them, aided by her foul-mouthed best friend, Trish (Chelsea Handler). The fact that FDR and Tuck are spies is rather meaningless, other than allowing them access to all kinds of fancy surveillance gadgetry, which lends the film its creepy, voyeuristic flavour.

This Means War fails on almost every level. It is supposed to be an action-comedy-thriller, but it is unfunny, unexciting, and the action sequences are merely loud and lifeless. Much of this stems from the script, which doesn’t manage to tie its two competing narrative strands together - the spy competition and the international crook revenge plot - in any kind of satisfactory fashion. While Witherspoon, Pine and Hardy are among the more appealing of Hollywood’s current crop of stars, they are given no opportunity to shine here. Witherspoon is shrill, Pine is unbearably smug, and Hardy is feeble and hopelessly miscast. While McG’s other directorial efforts - the Charlie’s Angels movies (2000/2003) and Terminator: Salvation (2009) - had their moments, this is just shoddy, uninspiring and, most egregiously of all, soul-destroyingly dull.

Amongst the monotony of tired action sequences and disturbing voyeurism, there exists something altogether more unpleasant in This Means War: it is horribly sexist towards both genders. Lauren runs a successful business (testing household appliances), and yet she is miserable because she doesn’t have a man (so far, so postfeminist). We then get McG’s version of feminism: pursuing and using men for sex is decreed the ultimate triumph of the women’s movement (Gloria Steinem even gets a mention, something which will no doubt delight her). Lauren’s friend, Trish, is a post-Bridesmaids (2011) creation; however, where Kristen Wiig’s script also had - amongst the explosive diarrhoea - nuance, emotion and actual humour, Trish is merely uncouth, aggressive and disgusting. If this is what Hollywood thinks feminism is, it’s struggling.

However, This Means War is an equal opportunity insulter: the men are shown to be incapable of friendship when they are not killing people and blowing things up. When FDR and Tuck are denied the opportunity to discharge their masculine competitive drives, they attack each other like Neanderthals. Thank goodness the bad guys turn up at the end so their camaraderie can be rescued by returning to a heady diet of murder and mayhem. Offending everybody is the only task at which This Means War succeeds.

This review was published on March 13, 2012.