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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Johnny Depp's Neverland named top film by NBR
The Johnny Depp-led biopic Finding Neverland, a whimsical retelling of Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie's life, was named the best film of year by the National Board of Review. NBR prexy Annie Schulhof described the film as visually magical. "All the elements hit the page for a best NBR film--the acting, the costumes, the set design, the music, and especially the cinematography," she told The Associated Press. Jamie Foxx, meanwhile, took the best actor honor for his portrayal of Ray Charles in Ray and Annette Bening was named best actress for her role as an aging British stage star in Being Julia. Laura Linney, who plays the wife of sex researcher Alfred Kinsey in Kinsey, won the supporting-actress category while the cast of Closer--Jude Law, Julia Roberts, Clive Owen and Natalie Portman--received an accolade for best acting by an ensemble. In other categories, the Disney and Pixar juggernaut The Incredibles, about a family of super heroes, conquered the best animated feature category, the Spanish film The Sea Inside won top foreign language film and Born Into Brothels took best documentary. Michael Mann won the best director award for his Tom Cruise starrer Collateral and scribe Charlie Kaufman's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, starring Jim Carrey as a man who wants to erase memories of a failed romance, won for best original screenplay.
Gothams hail Sideways
Director Alexander Payne's comedy Sideways was named best feature of the year Wednesday at the IFP/New York's 14th annual Gotham Awards in New York. Helmer Jonathan Demme's The Agronomist, about Haitian human rights activist Jean Dominique, took best documentary. The breakthrough actor award went to Catalina Sandino, for her role in Maria Full of Grace, while that film's director, Joshua Marston, was awarded the breakthrough director award. The Gothams aired live for the first time on cable network IFC.
Brokaw bids adieu to viewers
After almost 23 years as NBC Nightly News anchor, Tom Brokaw ended Wednesday night's broadcast with a touching farewell. "Thanks for all that I have learned from you," he said, expressing gratitude to his viewers. "That's been my richest reward." Brokaw is leaving Nightly News and daily journalism to pursue other interests, but will still contribute to NBC News, doing at least three documentaries a year, the AP reports. A South Dakota native who joined NBC in 1966, Brokaw was White House correspondent from 1973 to 1976 and anchored Today from 1976 to 1981. He began his Nightly News stint in April 1982, sharing the anchor title with Roger Mudd, and emerged as solo anchor in September 1983.
Nick and Jessica perplexed by rumor mill
During an appearance on ABC News' Good Morning America, Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey denied tabloid rumors their marriage is on the rocks. "We really are trying to think of where this whole firestorm of gossip came from," Lachey said. "We haven't been able to find really one instance or one public spat." Simpson scoffed at stories she didn't wear her wedding ring to a recent public event because of the couple's alleged marital troubles. "It was a fashion decision," Simpson said, explaining her yellow gold bracelets didn't match her large platinum and diamond wedding rings. "I'm kind of finicky about gold jewelry ... about matching it with silver. Now I don't look at it as that. It's just always going to stay on my finger. It's never coming off."
Knight maybe involved in Vibe melee
Authorities are investigating whether rap mogul Marion "Suge" Knight played a role in the altercation at the Vibe Awards last month, in which rapper Dr. Dre was attacked. Knight, who had a falling out with Dre over their label Death Row Records in the mid-'90s, has denied any involvement in the incident in which a man, Jimmy "James" Johnson, punched Dre in the face. The assault sparked a brawl in which Johnson was stabbed and seriously injured by Dre protégé, rapper Young Buck. Unidentified sources told theLos Angeles Times police have been interviewing witnesses and reviewing video footage to examine Knight's actions before, during and after the melee. Knight was released from prison in 2001 after serving time for assault and weapons violations and the conditions for his parole ban him from having any contact with Dre. The AP reports Knight apparently came to the Vibe Awards without an invitation and sat just a few feet behind Dre.
Joan, Raymond top Family Awards
CBS' Joan of Arcadia and Everybody Loves Raymond were among the winners at the sixth annual Family Television Awards, presented Wednesday in Los Angeles, Reuters reports. Joan and Raymond won in the drama and comedy categories, respectively, while Joan star Amber Tamblyn and Raymond's Doris Roberts tied for actress honors, while Bernie Mac, star of the Fox comedy The Bernie Mac Show, won in the actor category. ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition won best reality program, while the network's Lost took the best new series prize. The awards, organized by the Family Friendly Programming Forum, honor "outstanding work in family-friendly television entertainment."
Actor Orbach diagnosed with prostate cancer
Law & Order star Jerry Orbach has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, the AP reports. "We expect he'll be fine. He's been playing golf, shooting his episodes and doing real well," manager Robert Malcolm told the New York Daily News. Producer Dick Wolf told the News Orbach's illness will not disrupt production of the NBC show. "We expect him to make a full and swift recovery, and while he is receiving treatment, we will work around his schedule," Wolf said.
Inflatable SpongeBobs stolen!
Be on the look out for a thief carrying around 9-foot-wide SpongeBob SquarePants inflatables. More than 50 SpongeBob-nappings have been reported from Florida to Utah since the Nickelodeon pop icon started appearing on the roofs of Burger King restaurants in a promotional tie-in with the hit movie, AP reports. "We don't have any theories. SpongeBob SquarePants is kind of a fad. It could be a childhood prank or an adult trying to get a fad item for Christmas," Florida's Putnam County sheriff's Lt. Steve Rose told the AP Wednesday. "If any leads come across, we will follow up in hopes of making an arrest."
Kit Bowen contributed to this report.
Sundance Film Festival officials have announced entries for dramatic, documentary and "American Spectrum" categories of the 2004 festival, which runs Jan. 15 through Jan. 25 in Park City, Utah.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the competitive categories at this year's festival include big-name actors appearing in films by relatively unknown directors, and a record-breaking number of projects from black filmmakers and projects influenced by Sept. 11:
Actor Kevin Bacon and his wife, Kyra Sedgwick, star alongside hip-hop artist Mos Def in The Woodsman, directed by Nicole Kassel. It revolves around a convicted pedophile who returns to his hometown after 12 years in prison and tries to start a new life.
Courteney Cox Arquette stars in November, directed by Greg Harrison, about a Los Angeles photographer who struggles to put the tragic circumstances of her boyfriend's death behind her.
John Curran's Adultery, starring Mark Ruffalo, Laura Dern, Peter Krause and Naomi Watts, follows two couples who are friends and whose relationships are intertwined.
Writer/director Rodney Evans' Brother to Brother is about an 18-year-old, gay, black artist who discovers the hidden legacies of gay and lesbian subcultures within the Harlem Renaissance. The film is one of a dozen projects that center on the black experience or are by black filmmakers--the most ever on a Sundance roster, according to the Reporter.
"We have 12 features that are either about, produced by or directed by African-American filmmakers," Festival director Geoff Gilmore said. "What's good is that it indicates that there are a lot of African-American filmmakers working in the independent arena because these are works that would not have been made for studios. It's really of interest to me to see a whole range of people now trying to produce independent work."
Gilmore added that some of the entries in this year's festival are the first generation of post-Sept. 11 films. "These are films by filmmakers that were entirely conceived, developed and then produced following those events," Gilmore told the Reporter. "The insularity of America pre-Sept. 11 and the assuredness that existed in the world at that time followed by the anxiety that exists in the world we are in now. These are films about trying to find things out."
The lineup for the festival's remaining categories and the opening night film are expected to be announced later today. Short films appearing at the festival will be announced Dec. 8.
The Best Thief in the World, Jacob Kornbluth
Book of Love, Alan Brown
Brother to Brother, Rodney Evans
Chrystal, Ray McKinnon
Down to the Bone, Debra Granik
Easy, Jane Weinstock
Evergreen, Enid Zentelis
Garden State, Zach Braff
Harry and Max, Christopher Munch
Maria Full of Grace, Joshua Marston
Napoleon Dynamite, Jared Hess
November, Greg Harrison
One Point O, Jeff Renfroe, MarteinnThorsson
Primer, Shane Carruth
Adultery, John Curran
The Woodsman, Nicole Kassell
A Place of Our Own, Stanley Nelson
Born Into Brothels, Ross Kauffman, ZanaBriksi
Chisholm '72 -- Unbought & Unbossed, Shola Lynch
Dig, Ondi Timoner
Farmingville, Catherine Tambini, Carlos Sandoval
The Fight, Barak Goodman
Heir to an Execution, Ivy Meeropol
Home of the Brave, Paola di Florio
I Like Killing Flies, Matt Mahurin
Imelda, Ramona S. Diaz
In the Realms of the Unreal, Jessica Yu
Deadline, Katy Chevigny, Kirsten Johnson
Neverland: The Rise and Fall of the Symbionese Liberation Army, Robert Stone
Persons of Interest, Alison Maclean, Tobias Perse
Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock
Word Wars, Julian Petrillo
CSA: Confederate States of America, Kevin Willmott
Dandelion, Mark Milgard
Dirty Work, David Sampliner
Everyday People, Jim McKay
Lbs., Matthew Bonifacio
Let the Church Say Amen, David Petersen
Mean Creek, Jacob Aaron Estes
Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky
MVP, Harry Davis
Open Water, Chris Kentis
Second Best, Eric Weber
September Tapes, Christian Johnston
Speak, Jessica Sharzer