Saturday, February 18, 2012

"This Means War" (2012)

Starring Chris Pine, Tom Hardy and Reese Witherspoon
Written by Simon Kinberg and Timothy Dowling
Directed by McG
Rated PG-13 - Language, violence, sex
Running Time: 120 Minutes

There is a perennial argument amongst "Star Trek" fans: Captain Kirk vs Captain Picard.  Now, the only time those two legendary characters have met together on screen was 1994's disappointing "Star Trek: Generations."  Now, "This Means War" is not at all a "Star Trek" film, but there's a good joke buried in there for fans.

FDR Foster (Chris Pine) and his best friend and partner Tuck Henson (Tom Hardy) are two of the CIA's best agents.  On one mission to Hong Kong, they are tasked with retrieving some kind of dangerous device, and the criminal trying to buy it - a man named Heinrich (Til Schweiger).  Heinrich gets away, but FDR and Tuck retrieve the device and kill Heinrich's brother.

Meanwhile, Lauren Scott (Reese Witherspoon) is a successful product testing executive still dealing with the fallout of her last breakup.  Her best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler) sets up a profile for her on an online dating website, and she finds Tuck as one of her matches.  The two meet up for a date, which goes well.  Afterward, Lauren heads into a video store and bumps into FDR.  At first, they grate against each other, but he ultimately convinces her to go out on a date with him.

When FDR and Tuck realize they're both dating the same woman, they make a 'gentlemen's agreement' to see which one she ends up going for.  They both use their CIA contacts and skills to present themselves as the best man for Lauren, and both end up falling for her, while she struggles to decide which one she loves more.  All the while, Heinrich is making his way to the United States to track down FDR and Tuck and get revenge for the death of his brother.

Which one will Lauren choose? The safe, nice guy or the more exciting womanizer with trust issues?  ...And will any of them make it out alive?

"This Means War" is by no means a deep or thoughtful film.  The characters and the plot are fairly basic. Instead, the film is designed around putting its characters into fun situations rather than exploring who they are or why they do the things they do.  With some solidly entertaining action sequences, as well as a fairly humorous romantic storyline, "This Means War" is a fun, if innocuous, action romantic comedy.

Chris Pine's FDR is the slick, young womanizer with the swanky apartment and fancy car.  We also learn that his parents died at a young age, and as a result he has some trust issues.  This makes Pine's character here curiously similar to the one he played in 2009's "Star Trek" reboot.  He's young, brash, charismatic.  Even though Lauren rejects him initially, he's dogged enough to keep after her and score a date.  Lauren ends being attracted to him for being the more 'bad boy' of the two, but he also shows her a sensitive side she finds intriguing, especially after she meets his family.

Tom Hardy on the other hand is the one with the past he's still learning from.  He has a son and an ex, and is the one who seems like more of a safe bet.  At first this makes him seem like the obvious choice for Lauren, who is still reeling from her past breakup and proves herself to be a little bit awkward and even a bit dorky.

What's interesting, for the "Star Trek" fan in me is that both Pine and Hardy's characters seem at least on some level similar to the roles they played in "Star Trek" - Pine's Captain Kirk is also a quick-witted womanizer, while Hardy only got to play the flawed clone of Captain Picard, but Picard himself was always a bit more diplomatic and quiet and had the wild past he was learning to overcome.

These two characters work best together on screen when they're rivals for Lauren's affections.  The early on scenes between the two of them are fine enough while they're still friends, but for most of the second act when they are constantly trying to one-up each other in Lauren's eyes, that's when "This Means War" really kicks into gear and is at its most entertaining.  Pine and Hardy work great in just the little, friendly antagonistic moments between them.  And each of them both work well enough with Reese Witherspoon, who is playing her usual perky likable character.

The other characters in the movie are fairly minor.  The only one with any real presence is Chelsea Handler's foul-mouthed Trish.  She gets a lot of great lines, and she delivers them well enough.  But her character has essentially appeared in any number of other romantic comedies, especially of late.  I dare anyone to watch Handler's scenes here and not be reminded of "Bridesmaids."  Some of FDR and Tuck's CIA colleagues get some good moments, but I'm not even sure we ever really even learn most of their names.  Even when Angela Bassett appears briefly as FDR and Tuck's CIA superior, she gets maybe a half dozen lines at best.

The movie, overall, is breezy and fun.  It's brightly colored, with the jokes coming quickly.  Most scenes are over in a flash, a few quips here and some CIA joking around.  It's a bunch of pretty, likable people going around and doing cool things.  Ultimately, it suffers from some predictability.  At a certain point in the film, it becomes pretty obvious which of the two men Lauren is going to choose, but we know that things will be tied up in a neat little bow for both of them.

This light tone and fast pace keeps "This Means War" from being painful or dreadfully dull.  Even the parts that aren't quite working zip by, and the whole exercise is easily digestible.  This is a movie that succeeds mostly by moving along quickly and having a cast capable of keeping the audience's attention. It's not the Kirk vs Picard battle for the ages some nerds might be hoping for, and it's also kinda dumb, but with action, comedy and romance wrapped up in a fun little package, this is a perfectly fine cheap date night movie.

See Also
Star Trek (2009)
Star Trek: Nemesis