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: David Blaine Emerges From Box
Illusionist David Blaine emerged Sunday from the transparent box hanging over London's River Thames in which he spent 44 days for a starvation stunt and was taken to the hospital after making a brief statement, Reuters reports. Looking disheveled and visibly thinner, Blaine, who says he consumed only water during his ordeal, broke down in tears in front of a crowd of thousands. "I learned how important it is to have a sense of humor and to laugh at everything because nothing makes any sense," he said. Medical teams checked the 30-year-old New Yorker on the scene before he was carried on a stretcher into an ambulance and taken to the London Independent Hospital. Doctors said Blaine faced disorientation, muscle loss and may have damaged his appetite, which could put him at a longer-term risk of eating disorders. Blaine sold the television rights to broadcasters Sky TV and Channel 4 in deals reportedly worth at least $1 million.
Prosecution Says Enough Evidence for Blake Trial
Prosecutors say there is "more than sufficient" evidence to try actor Robert Blake for killing his wife. According to The Associated Press, prosecutors, responding to the defense motion to dismiss murder charges against the actor, said testimony at a preliminary hearing showed that Blake discussed killing his wife "in a manner strikingly similar to the manner in which she actually was killed." The prosecution added that Blake was in the area when she was killed and had gunshot residue on his hands and clothing. Blake, 69, is accused of shooting Bonny Lee Bakley to death on May 4, 2001, while she waited in his car as he allegedly went to retrieve a gun he had accidentally dropped under a table in a Studio City restaurant where they had just dined. But in September, the defense motion claimed there was no forensic evidence linking Blake to the shooting or the murder weapon and asked that murder charges against the Baretta star be dismissed. A hearing on the dismissal motion is scheduled for Oct. 31 with the trial set for Feb. 9.
Schwarzenegger Mural Gets Terminated
Los Angeles officials want a building owner to take down a giant mural of California Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger that went up a week after the Terminator star won the state's Oct. 7 recall election, Reuters reports. The city attorney charged owner Robert Lusk Davis Thursday with failing to get a permit for the ad promoting the DVD release of Terminator 3 but Davis, who is no relation to outgoing Gov. Gray Davis, said he would take the case to court before taking it down. The mural, on Cahuenga Blvd. in Studio City, is about 40 feet high and about 100 feet wide. Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn told Reuters the apparent political implications of the case were coincidental.
Woody Allen Bio Doubtful
Woody Allen's publicist said Friday that, contrary to published reports, the filmmaker was not close to a book deal. "Many times over the past two to three years, they've asked him to write his memoirs and he said he wasn't interested," Leslee Dart told the AP Friday. "They then told him they could get a phenomenal amount of money for it, and he said that for a phenomenal amount of money he could see if he could get interested." The New York Times reported last week that Allen was near agreement with Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin, for a deal worth around $3 million. Dart said Allen had turned down Riverhead and that no other offers were being considered, but added that he had not given up.
Judge Throws Out Lawsuit Against Eminem
A judge on Friday dismissed a defamation lawsuit filed by a former schoolmate of rapper Eminem. DeAngelo Bailey, 32, claimed that Eminem slandered him in the song "Brain Damage" on his 1999 album The Slim Shady LP. He was seeking $1 million. But Mount Clemes, Mich., Judge Deborah Servitto sided with the rapper, saying Eminem's lyrics are "stories no one would take as fact, they're an exaggeration of a childish act."
Ozzy Osbourne a New Man
In an in-depth interview with MTV, Ozzy Osbourne revealed he is a brand new man. Osbourne announced last week that he was postponing his upcoming European tour because of the effects of medication he's taking to treat tremors. After seeking out Dr. Allan H. Ropper, who had treated famous Parkinson's sufferer Michael J. Fox, Osbourne said he is feeling better than he has in years. "It turns out that it's a hereditary thing that I have from my mother's side of the family," an animated Ozzy told MTV. "This guy in Boston fixed me great. He's taken me off all the medication that I was on. I'm taking one medication now for this tremor." So don't expect to see Osbourne shuffling around his house on The Ousbournes anytime soon. The singer said that was simply a consequence of the constant pain he was in.
Afghan Film Wins Canadian Prize
Afghan director Siddiq Barmak's film Osama, which won the top prize Sunday at Montreal's New Movie and New Media Festival, has become one of the first features produced in Afghanistan and nominated since the fall of the Taliban, Reuters reports. The film, named after Osama bin Laden who at the time was established in Afghanistan, tells the story of the social situation and women's lack of status in society after the Taliban came to power in 1996.
Web Piracy Could Cost Hollywood Millions
A new survey by Britain's Informa Media Group found Monday that selling films across the Internet could be an industry worth more than $800 million a year by 2010, but would be worth more than $1.3 billion if it were not for illegal downloads, Reuters reports. The survey found that Internet users with broadband connections download an estimated 144,000 films illegally every day worldwide. If 50 percent of those downloads is considered a lost sale worth an average $3.50, it means that this year alone Hollywood misses out on about $92 million in revenues, Informa added. The report also estimated that sales of hard copies of DVDs and video will remain by far the largest category of film sales: $2.62 billion in 2010, up from this year's $804 million.
Role Call: Duvall and Farrell Play Ball, Warner Options Pearl Memoire
Robert Duvall, who starred as the coach of a