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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Top Story: Polanski wins BAFTA and Cesar, Alleged Victim Speaks Out in His Favor
In what has come as a surprise to many Oscar watchers, Roman Polanski's Holocaust drama The Pianist took best film honors at the UK's equivalent of the Academy Awards, the BAFTAs, held last night in London's West End and took top props at the annual French movie awards, the Cesars, on Saturday as well. Polanski, who also won the BAFTA for best director, has been considered a dark horse in the Oscar race, in part because of his checkered past: the director fled the US in 1978 rather than face imprisonment on charges of having sex with then-minor Samantha Geimer. Geimer argued in a bylined L.A. Times editorial Sunday that Polanski's work should be judged on its merits, not on its creator's past behavior. "I believe that Mr. Polanski and his film should be honored according to the quality of the work," Geimer wrote. "What he does for a living and how good he is at it have nothing to do with me or what he did to me." With his BAFTA win, Polanski becomes a frontrunner in the Oscar race, although odds are he still won't risk arrest by attending the ceremony. Nicole Kidman (The Hours) and Daniel Day-Lewis (Gangs of New York) received the top acting prizes, and Catherine Zeta-Jones (Chicago) and Christopher Walken (Catch Me If You Can) were honored in the supporting categories.
Circle the Wagons: Celebs on War in Iraq
Add actor/director George Clooney to the list of celebs speaking out against war in Iraq. Reuters reports that the star of the Gulf War drama Three Kings told a German television program that the war will only lead to increased violence. "You can't beat your enemy anymore through wars," Clooney said. "Instead you create an entire generation of people revenge-seeking." The star added that he believes it's unfair to brand opponents of the war as unpatriotic.
Eminem Launches Clothing Line
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Tonya Harding Loses Debut Bout as Pro Boxer
Whack! Pow! Splat! So goes disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding's professional boxing debut against Samantha Browning. Now known as the "Bad Girl of Boxing," the dressed-in-black Harding rarely landed a clean blow against her opponent (and vice versa), Reuters reports.
Alleged Spice Girl Kidnap Perps in Court
A UK judge ordered the five men charged with conspiring to kidnap former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham (aka Posh Spice) to be held without bail pending their trial later this year, The Associated Press reports.
Paul Reubens Won't Get Off This Time
Charges that actor Paul Reubens possessed child pornography will not be dropped, Superior Court Judge Carol Rehm ruled Friday, ordering both defense and prosecution back in court on Friday to schedule a trial date. Reubens, 50, is currently is free on $20,000 bail. He had pleaded innocent to one misdemeanor count of possessing material depicting children under 18 engaging in sexual conduct.
Titos Vandis Dies at 86
Versatile Greek character actor Titos Vandis died in an Athens hospital Sunday after a long battle with cancer. Vandis appeared in The Exorcist, among other films, and was also seen on the TV series Kojak and Hawaii Five-O.
Role Call: Scorsese Docu in the Works; Sarandon Having "Whale" of a Time
Oscar-nominated director Martin Scorsese (Gangs of New York) will document the history of British cinema in an as-yet-unnamed documentary for Miramax to be produced by Carlton International and Cappa Prods, Reuters reports. Meanwhile, Variety reports Susan Sarandon is set to play a widowed doctor who gets a new sense of purpose after experiencing some freaky events in A Whale in Montana.