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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Consideration follows the making of a small independent film Home for Purim the debut feature from director Jay Berman (Guest) about a Jewish family's turbulent reunion set in the 1940s. When Internet-generated rumors begin circulating that three of the film's stars--faded luminary Marilyn Hack (Catherine O'Hara) journeyman actor and former hot dog pitchman Victor Allan Miller (Harry Shearer) and ingénue Callie Webb (Parker Posey)--may be considered for golden statuettes award fever infects the entire production. Unit publicist Corey Taft (John Michael Higgins) talent agent Morley Orfkin (Eugene Levy) and producer Whitney Taylor Brown (Jennifer Coolidge) are all primed to milk this thing for as long as they can. Even Hollywood Now TV anchors Chuck Porter (Fred Willard) and Cindy Martin (Jane Lynch) pick up the buzz. As the hopeful Purim team careens toward the end of production and the upcoming award season tenuous relationships and brittle dreams play out in unexpected ways. The gang from Waiting for Guffman Best in Show and A Mighty Wind are all back and raring to go. Each actor once again comes up with their own unique character quirks and personalities--some of course more outrageous than others. Stand-outs in that department include Higgins as the uptight militaristic publicist Corey; Willard as the bombastic TV host with a “faux” Mohawk with the plastic Lynch smiling sweetly--and completely insincerely—by his side; and Coolidge as yet another dumb hat-wearing push-up bra-strapping blonde who delivers some of the funnier lines in the movie. But the real surprise is O'Hara as Marilyn the veteran actress who has all but given up on the dream of making it big—until she gets caught up in all the excitement and starts to believe again. It's actually more than a little heartbreaking to watch as O'Hara provides an emotional core amidst the sea of cut-ups. For Your Consideration might be director/writer Guest’s most introspective production to date. Done more as a straightforward film than a mockumentary this time Guest and co-writer Eugene Levy obviously felt it was time to make fun of the one thing they know a whole lot about. No dog shows small-town community theater or folk singing in this one. Yet in turning their satirical eye on themselves Guest Levy and the whole improvisational cast have created something that may hit a little too close to home and in doing so loses some of that hysterical exaggeration we’ve come to expect from their movies. Don't get me wrong its still hilarious much of the time but it's not quite as laugh-out-loud funny as say watching a panicked woman desperately trying to find her dog's favorite toy or an upbeat folk singer talk about her past as a porn star. While its subtle approach may disappoint some fans For Your Consideration is still a worthy—and somewhat refreshing—change of pace for the Guest crew.