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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Did Hollywood have anything to do with the emergence of the Occupy Wall Street movement? The whole thing seems a little bit convenient. Last month saw the behind-the-meltdown docudrama Margin Call and the sci-fi metaphor In Time. Now we have Tower Heist a comedy that pits the blue collar staff of the Trump Tower against a thieving Bernie Madoff-esque tenant. The movie's an Ocean's 11 for the 99% with a sense of timeliness that makes the simple plotting and wisecracking that much more effective.
Ben Stiller stars as Josh Kovacs overseer of all the goings-on at the Tower. He wakes up before dawn and heads home after sunset spending his day catering to the occupants of the ritzy apartment complex and managing his eclectic crew—including former Burger King cook Enrique (Michael Peña) Jamaican maid Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe) and his slacker brother-in-law Charlie (Casey Affleck). The crew's greatest concern is multi-billionaire Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda) the penthouse resident Tower board member and thanks to attention paid trusted friend of Josh.
Trusted...until the FBI busts Shaw for stealing millions including the Tower employees' pensions.
Like all good tower heists Josh's titular harebrained scheme is prompted by a drunken night out with lead investigator Claire (Téa Leoni) who tips the irked manager off to Shaw's hidden stash: a possible eight-figure sum hidden somewhere in his apartment. In pursuing the American dream of revenge Josh recruits his slighted co-workers along with distraught former-millionaire Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick) and Josh's childhood friend-turned-thief Slide (Eddie Murphy). Together the motley crew concocts a plan to retrieve what's rightfully theirs—all while sinking Shaw in the process.
Tower Heist isn't as slick or intricate as the Ocean movies but its straightforward take on the crime genre is strengthened by Stiller Murphy and the rest of the cast's ability to inject ridiculous humor into sympathetic characters. When Josh realizes his decade spent commanding the operations of the Tower were for naught he wigs out marching up to the top floor to beat the crap out of Shaw's priceless convertible (it was owned by Steve McQueen in case you were wondering why anyone would keep an antique car on the top floor of a building). Not entirely realistic but relatable which sums up every over-the-top satisfying scenario these characters find themselves throughout the film.
Most importantly Tower Heist delivers on the funny. Playing the straight man is an art and Stiller's one of the masters (although you'd never know it from his Night at the Museum shtick or wackier roles like Zoolander) riffing off his co-stars while giving them ample time to be complete weirdos. The movie is being touted as a comeback for Murphy but he wisely steps into a supporting role delivering on his character's manic charm while never trying to steal the spotlight. The one who really steals the show is Broderick whose clueless neurotic Fitzhugh can't help relapsing mid-heist into memories of luxurious trips to Greece.
Credit goes to director Brett Ratner who cranked out three Rush Hour movies and an X-Men threequel while never really nailing down what it takes to make a group dynamic work. Here he pulls it off finding the right beats to make Tower Heist funny and thrilling. There are moments during the actual heist scene set during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade that cause quite a stir—a rarity in today's run-of-the-mill thrill rides.
Tower Heist is the definition of a cinematic softball avoiding risky choices and utilizing each actor to their previously known (and successful) traits without feeling lazy. As the holidays roll in and families look for something they all can enjoy Tower Heist delivers a little something for everyone. Except maybe Bernie Madoff.
Top Story: Blake Loses Lawyer, Trial Postponed
Robert Blake's murder trial has been postponed indefinitely after Blake's lawyer Thomas Mesereau Jr. quit the case, citing "irreconcilable differences," AP reports. Superior Court Judge Darlene Schempp canceled the jury selection that was to begin in less than two weeks and postponed the trial indefinitely following a one-hour meeting with Blake and Mesereau. Judge Schempp set a hearing date for Feb. 23, by which time Blake should have a new lawyer. Best known for his TV role as a tough talking cop on the '70's drama, Baretta, Blake, 70, is accused of murdering wife Bonnie Lee Bakely outside a restaurant in 2001. Spokeswoman for the district attorney's office Sandi Gibbons said, "We had no idea this was coming. It's like being punched in the stomach. It's like having the rug pulled out from under us. We're a little shell-shocked right now." This is the third lawyer Blake has lost.
That '70's Show Stars To End Run Next Season
Topher Grace and Ashton Kutcher will be around a little longer than originally planned, AP reports. Though Grace, 25, had made it know that this season would be his last, he has decided to stay on for one more season. Ashton Kutcher will also remain on the show though next season. The comedy has aired on Fox since 1998.
Paris Hilton May Host Pageant
Notorious party girl and now TV star Paris Hilton may host Donald Trump's Miss USA Pageant on NBC, AP reports. Trump reportedly got the idea while Hilton's parents were visiting his estate in Palm Beach. ""I've known Paris since she was a little girl. She's a fine girl ... I think she will give the pageant its highest TV ratings," the real estate tycoon told US Weekly.
Christian Groups Behind The Passion of the Christ Opening Day
Christian groups are going so far as buying out entire theaters so people may watch Mel Gibson's controversial film The Passion of the Christ and then discuss its message in church, AP reports. Says Josh Baran, a public relations executive publicizing the film, "They're going to bus them to theater. They will give assignments in many churches--go to the movie, we're going to talk about it." Other groups are going still further, standing in line to buy people tickets to the film, free of charge. Cory Engel, pastor of Harvest Springs Community Church in Great Falls, Montana explains, "This is a window of opportunity we have. Here's a guy who's putting his money into a movie that has everything to do with what we do. Churches used to communicate by having a little lecture time on Sunday morning. People don't interact that way anymore." The Passion of the Christ will open in 2,000 theaters on Ash Wednesday, a remarkable number considering the film is self-financed by director Gibson and all the dialog is in Aramaic and Latin. Jewish and Christian groups have expressed concern that Gibson's film depicts Jews as being solely responsible for the death of Jesus. "When they attack him, they attack millions of people in middle America," said Jennifer Giroux who created a website devoted to getting people to watch the film, "We have watched films concerning the Holocaust with compassion, concern and with sorrow, and we just want to be able to watch this beautiful, beautiful movie about our faith."
Speaking of Faith...Faith Evans To Attend Rehab Clinic
As part of an agreement wherein drug charges will be dropped, Faith Evans and her husband have agreed to complete a 13-week drug-counseling program, AP reports. Evans and her husband Todd Russow were charged with marijuana and cocaine possession and having improper license plate tags after the couple was pulled over in suburban Atlanta last month. Evans is the widow of rapper Christopher Wallace, aka Notorious B.I.G, who was killed in a drive-by shooting in 1997.
Role Call: Affleck a Brat, McGraw Goes Out On Friday
Ben Affleck has signed on to star in a new adaptation of Josephine Tey's novel Brat Farrar, Variety reports. Affleck will play the eldest of sibling in a story of familial strife following the death of the patriarch. Affleck's character was thought to have died as a boy, but returns to claim a portion of the deceased wealth. The 1963 novel was adapted once before in 1993 as the film, Paranoiac. Fight Club scribe Jim Ohls' script will more closely follow the novel's plot than the previous adaptation did...
Country singer Tim McGraw will start filming this week on a film adaptation of H. G. Bissinger's Friday Night Lights also starring Billy Bob Thornton, AP reports. McGraw, who previously acted in the unreleased indie, Black Cloud, will play an alcoholic father who tries to relive his youthful football success through his son. The film takes place in a football-obsessed Odessa, Texas. McGraw's wife, Faith Hill, will be seen later this year in the remake of The Stepford Wives.