In This Means War – a stylish action/rom-com hybrid from director McG – Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) and Chris Pine (Star Trek) star as CIA operatives whose close friendship is strained by the fires of romantic rivalry. Best pals FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are equally accomplished at the spy game but their fortunes diverge dramatically in the dating realm: FDR (so nicknamed for his obvious resemblance to our 32nd president) is a smooth-talking player with an endless string of conquests while Tuck is a straight-laced introvert whose love life has stalled since his divorce. Enter Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) a pretty plucky consumer-products evaluator who piques both their interests in separate unrelated encounters. Tuck meets her via an online-dating site FDR at a video-rental store. (That Lauren is tech-savvy enough to date online but still rents movies in video stores is either a testament to her fascinating mix of contradictions or more likely an example of lazy screenwriting.)
When Tuck and FDR realize they’re pursuing the same girl it sparks their respective competitive natures and they decide to make a friendly game of it. But what begins as a good-natured rivalry swiftly devolves into romantic bloodsport with both men using the vast array of espionage tools at their disposal – from digital surveillance to poison darts – to gain an edge in the battle for Lauren’s affections. If her constitutional rights happen to be violated repeatedly in the process then so be it.
Lauren for her part remains oblivious to the clandestine machinations of her dueling suitors and happily basks in the sudden attention from two gorgeous men. Herein we find the Reese Witherspoon Dilemma: While certainly desirable Lauren is far from the irresistible Helen of Troy type that would inspire the likes of Tuck and FDR to risk their friendship their careers and potential incarceration for. At several points in This Means War I found myself wondering if there were no other peppy blondes in Los Angeles (where the film is primarily set) for these men to pursue. Then again this is a film that wishes us to believe that Tom Hardy would have trouble finding a date so perhaps plausibility is not its strong point.
When Lauren needs advice she looks to her boozy foul-mouthed best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler). Essentially an extension of Handler’s talk-show persona – an acquired taste if there ever was one – Trish’s dialogue consists almost exclusively of filthy one-liners delivered in rapid-fire succession. Handler does have some choice lines – indeed they’re practically the centerpiece of This Means War’s ad campaign – but the film derives the bulk of its humor from the outrageous lengths Tuck and FDR go to sabotage each others’ efforts a raucous game of spy-versus-spy that carries the film long after Handler’s shtick has grown stale.
Business occasionally intrudes upon matters in the guise of Heinrich (Til Schweiger) a Teutonic arms dealer bent on revenge for the death of his brother. The subplot is largely an afterthought existing primarily as a means to provide third-act fireworks – and to allow McGenius an outlet for his ADD-inspired aesthetic proclivities. The film’s action scenes are edited in such a manic quick-cut fashion that they become almost laughably incoherent. In fairness to McG he does stage a rather marvelous sequence in the middle of the film in which Tuck and FDR surreptitiously skulk about Lauren's apartment unaware of each other's presence carefully avoiding detection by Lauren who grooves absentmindedly to Montel Jordan's "This Is How We Do It." The whole scene unfolds in one continuous take – or is at least craftily constructed to appear as such – captured by one very agile steadicam operator.
Whatever his flaws as a director McG is at least smart enough to know how much a witty script and appealing leads can compensate for a film’s structural and logical deficiencies. He proved as much with Charlie’s Angels a film that enjoys a permanent spot on many a critic’s Guilty Pleasures list and does so again with This Means War. The film coasts on the chemistry of its three co-stars and only runs into trouble when the time comes to resolve its romantic competition which by the end has driven its male protagonists to engage in all manner of underhanded and duplicitous activities. This Means War being a commercial film – and likely an expensive one at that – Witherspoon's heroine is mandated to make a choice and McG all but sidesteps the whole thorny matter of Tuck and FDR’s unwavering dishonesty not to mention their craven disregard for her privacy. (They regularly eavesdrop on her activities.) For all their obvious charms the truth is that neither deserves Lauren – or anything other than a lengthy jail sentence for that matter.
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Harrison Ford (What Lies Beneath) has signed on to play Fred Cuny, an American aid worker who disappeared in Chechnya in 1995, The Associated Press reports. The as-yet-untitled film is based on David Fanning's 1997 documentary The Lost American and will be penned by Gladiator scribe William Nicholson. Filming is scheduled to begin next year, though it'll likely not be shot on location--then the film would end up being about an American Hollywood star who disappeared in Chechnya.
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Sony Pictures Entertainment has agreed to pay the state of Connecticut $325,000 for promoting films using phony reviews credited to a Connecticut newspaper. A Sony spokesman reportedly promised that Sony would "never, ever do it again, cross our hearts, hope to die," though eyewitnesses did see him cross his fingers while making that statement.
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Jerry Seinfeld, titular star of TV's legendary Seinfeld, is making a comeback of sorts to the small screen. Seinfeld has signed a new three-year deal with American Express to make more commercials for the financial institution. It's no wonder why: Seinfeld's previous commercials pulled better ratings than the shows of former colleagues Michael Richards and Jason Alexander combined and ran for longer periods--but that's not saying much.
Hollywood stars (or at least some B listers) appeared at the Michael Awards, the self-proclaimed Fashion Oscars, Monday night. The charitable event, named after Michael Landon, raises money for the National Children's Leukemia Foundation and drew Sigourney Weaver, Cheryl Tiegs, Hallie Eisenberg and Roberta Flack. (Apparently Cheryl Ladd and Debbie Harry were no-shows.)
CSI is looking to break ER's seven-year stranglehold as TV's top-rated drama. For the second week in a row, CSI drew more viewers than ER and leads in average viewers per episode for the season. But in the wacky world of the Nielsen ratings, ER actually has the better rating. Recent rumors purport that the Nielsens were actually started by Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris--counting and numbers are clearly her strong suit.
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