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.
Follow Thomas Leupp on Twitter.
Follow Hollywood.com on Twitter.
CANNES, May 15, 2000 -- There are two sides (at least) to everything, right? For example, at the exact same time you want to keep dancing at the tres late rooftop party, you also want to fall asleep for the next 18 hours. At the same time you want to do yoga, you long for a warm chocolate crepe. Marlon Wayans wants to be here to celebrate his role in Darren Aronofsky's (his post-"Pi" flick) new movie, "Requiem for a Dream" at the same time he has to be in Los Angeles for the birth of his new baby. But that's the Cannes Film Festival. The French keep the eternal paradox alive and well.
Other festival tidbits:
-- "A wise man once said everyone would be famous for 15 minutes..." mumbles a voice as Griffin Dunne's new movie, "Famous" starts. Okay, so we all know about that 15 minutes thing, but what co-writing co-stars Laura Kirk and Nat DeWolf and Griffin, who plays a documentarian, want to know is, what happens the five minutes before that fabulous quarter hour.
Mira Sorvino This dead-on hilarious and painful story (the two go together don't they?) follows Lisa Picard, a 29-year-old struggling actress in New York City. Adding to the fun in this terrific comedy is a mix of uncredited celeb cameos (Carrie Fisher, Spike Lee, Penelope Ann Miller, Charlie Sheen, Melissa Gilbert and Sandra Bullock). "Famous" also marks Oscar-winner Mira Sorvino's producing debut.
-- Once you have your 15 minutes of fame you can always book a room and swim in the famous azure pool built into the cliff that flows into the sea. But they only take cash, which is a slight problem this year since the French franc suppliers are on strike and most of the ATM's are dry as a bone.
-- Two films by cinematic royalty, presented Sunday night with glittering fanfare -- "The Golden Bowl," a costume drama presented by Merchant Ivory and featuring Nick Nolte, Uma Thurman and Angelica Houston; and, "Faithless" written by Ingmar Bergman and directed by Liv Ullmann. Both films were more pewter than gold. To be more specific (and OK, meaner) in "The Leaden Bowl" not only do you already know what's going to happen, nobody gets around to doing it for over two hours. And as for Liv Ullmann, she tells us everything and then proceeds to show us everything, twice managing to skip the good parts.
-- Sunday was no day of rest here. It's one thing to enjoy the spectacle of our most popular stars floating up those traditional red steps but it's quite another to turn a corner in the busy corridors of the Carlton Hotel and run into the very friendly and sweet Chris Rock along with that girl-next-door Renee Zellweger and their talented director Neil LaBute. Even here, stars "take meetings." Their movie, "Nurse Betty" has a great shot at actually winning the Palme d'Or (although merit never guarantees victory, don't we know?)
-- Let's face it. The French and their famous Cannes Film Festival have "Un Certain Reputation" for major style and just as major attitude. This means, no matter what's planned, you never really know what's going to happen next which is definitely part of the fun and excitement. But only the French could have a quiet security alert (read: bomb threat) in just a small part of the Palais (yes, it's one huge building complex) as the totally unaware paparazzi continue to bellow as the fans howl into the night. It happened here on Saturday. Happily not a sequin was disturbed and everything was okay.
-- It's just these kind of eccentric idiosyncrasies that artists and brothers, Ethan and Joel Coen revel in. Their latest film, "O Brother, Where Art Though?" stars the usual suspects, John Turturro, Holly Hunter and John Goodman with the classy addition of George Clooney. This twisted and funny (but, of course) jailbreak story is in the competition. We'll see if the Coens shake the Golden Palm one more time. (In 1991, they won the award for "Barton Fink.")
Hopefully this will be a festival where there are no bombs of any kind. (Yeah, right.)
It's official -- the famed festivities here have begun, even if the obligatory red carpet wasn't ready until the late afternoon. But a lack of carpet didn't stop the sun and stars from converging in the daylight this morning when Uma Thurman and Gerard Depardieu arrived with their posses for a screening of "Vatel," which opened the 53rd Cannes Film Festival.
The wind ravaged the Mediterranean waters (magically sparing Uma's golden locks) as cameras flashed and fans clapped. In this day of cutting-edge digital media, it's still fun to revel in the old-fashioned glamour of the young and beautiful (not to mention statuesque and blonde) Uma co-starring with the rugged, debonaire (you gotta throw in some French when you're on the Riviera) andmuch, much older Gerard.
The excitement here never dies. The next big stir was the dramatic arrival of the jury members who will bestow Cannes' career-making Palme d'Or (the Golden Palm Award.) This year's jury president is filmmaker Luc Besson ("The Fifth Element"). Among his 10 cohorts are Kristin Scott Thomas and Jeremy Irons.
The other must-watch Cannes category (with 22 films mostly by first-time directors) is Un Certain Regard. It opens today with the touching and femme-filled "Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her." Rodrigo Garcia, son of Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez, directs the likes of Cameron Diaz, Glenn Close and Calista Flockhart in this series of slightly interwoven vignettes. Other films to look forward to are "Famous," directed by and starring Griffin Dunne (multitasking is so chic), as well as "I Dreamed of Africa" starring Kim Basinger and Vincent Perez.
Uma, meanwhile, is ringing in the millennium in style, since she has not one, but two films here. The second is the lusty Merchant Ivory film "The Golden Bowl," which is a competition entry. Co-star Nick Nolte is flying in for that premiere later.
Just one question: Where's Ethan?