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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The God of Legion secular Hollywood’s latest Biblically-inspired action flick is old-school an angry spiteful Almighty with a penchant for Old Testament theatrics. Fed up with humanity’s decadent warmongering ways He’s decided to pull the plug on the whole crazy experiment and start over from scratch.
Fortunately for us the God of Legion is also a rather lazy fellow. Instead of doing the apocalyptic work himself and wiping us out with a giant flood which worked perfectly well last time He opts to delegate the task to His army of angels — a questionable strategy that starts to fall apart when the archangel charged with leading the planned extermination Michael (Paul Bettany) refuses to comply.
Michael who unlike his boss still harbors affection for our sorry species abandons his post and descends to earth where inside the swollen belly of Charlie (Adrianne Palicki) an unwed mother-to-be working as a waitress in an out-of-the-way diner sits humanity’s lone hope for survival. Why is this particular baby so important? Is it the one destined to lead us to victory over Skynet? Heaven knows — Legion reveals little details its script devoid of actual scripture. What is clear is that God’s celestial hitmen want the kid whacked before it’s born.
But Michael won’t let humanity fall without a fight. Armed with a Waco-sized arsenal of assault weapons he hunkers down with the diner’s patrons a largely superfluous collection of thinly-sketched caricatures from various demographic groups led by Dennis Quaid as the diner’s grizzled owner Tyrese Gibson as a hip-hop hustler and Lucas Black as a simple-minded country boy.
Together they mount a heroic final stand against hordes of angels who’ve taken possession of “weak-willed” humans turning kindly old grandmas and mild-mannered ice cream vendors into snarling ravenous foul-mouthed beasts. They descend upon the ramshackle diner in a series of full-frontal assaults commanded by the archangel Gabriel (Kevin Durand) the George Pickett of End of Days generals.
Beneath its superficial religious facade Legion is really just a run-of-the-mill zombie flick a Biblical I Am Legend. Bettany an actor accustomed to smaller dramatic roles in films like A Beautiful Mind and The Da Vinci Code looks perfectly at ease in his first major action role wielding machine guns and bowie knives with equal aplomb. Conversely first-time director Scott Stewart a former visual effects artist does little to prove himself worthy of such a promotion serving up some impressive CGI work but not much else worthy of note.
Freddy Krueger and Jason Vorhees teamed up this weekend to defend their No. 1 title at the box office--and it worked: Freddy vs. Jason managed to murder the competition for the second week in a row with $13.4 million*.
Freddy vs. Jason was followed by the '70s inspired police pic S.W.A.T., which claimed the No. 2 spot with $10.8 million, while the Western Open Range and the family remake Freaky Friday tied for third place with $9.4 million apiece. The Jackie Chan martial arts actioner The Medallion, the only one of this week's new wide releases to crack the Top Five, followed with $8.2 million.
The two new comedies, however, failed to tickle the fancy of moviegoers. The finally released, two-year-old Ashton Kutcher laffer My Boss's Daughter premiered in tenth place with $5 million while the hip-hop comedy Marci X disappeared off the charts with a paltry $865,000.
Although Freddy vs. Jason dropped off significantly from its $36.4 million high last week, it is the first summer film since X2: X-Men United to spend two weekends in a row at the top of the box office. But after a full month of $30 million plus openers, the box office lost its typical end of summer steam.
This week's Top 12 films grossed a total of $86.1 million, down a little more than 35 percent from last week, when they earned $132.6 million. The total, however, was up almost 33 percent form this time last year, when the Top 12 films grossed $64.8 million.
THE TOP TEN
New Line Cinema's R rated horror flick Freddy vs. Jason defended its No. 1 title for the second week in a row with an ESTIMATED $13.4 million (-63%) in 3,014 theaters (unchanged). Its $4,463 per theater average was the highest of any movie playing wide this week. Its cume is approximately $61.4 million.
Directed by Ronny Yu, it stars Robert Englund and Ken Kirzinger.
Sony Pictures' PG-13 rated S.W.A.T. retained in its No. 2 spot in its third week with an ESTIMATED $10.8 million (-40%) in 3,204 theaters (-16 theaters; $3,371 per theater). Its cume is approximately $88 million.
Directed by Clark Johnson, it stars Colin Farrell, Samuel L. Jackson, LL Cool J and Michelle Rodriguez.
Buena Vista's R rated Western Open Range also held on to third place in its second week with an ESTIMATED $9.4 million (-33%) in 2,075 theaters (+88 theaters; $4,346 per theater). Its cume is approximately $29 2 million.
Directed by and starring Kevin Costner, it also stars Robert Duvall, Annette Bening, Diego Luna and Michael Gambon.
Buena Vista's PG rated family remake Freaky Friday tied for third place in its third week with an ESTIMATED $9.4 million (-30%) in 3,058 theaters (+79 theaters; $3,074 per theater). Its cume is $74.5 million.
Directed by Mark Waters, it stars Jamie Lee Curtis, Lindsay Lohan, Chad Michael Murray and Mark Harmon.
*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.
Sony Pictures' PG-13 rated martial arts actioner The Medallion premiered in fifth place with an ESTIMATED $8.2 million at 2,648 theaters, with a $3,097 per theater average.
The film, Jackie Chan's first theatrical release in three years without a famous co-star, revolves around a Hong Kong detective who must protect a Buddhist monk child and a mysterious medallion from a ruthless crime lord.
Directed by Gordon Chan, it stars Jackie Chan, Lee Evans and Claire Forlani.
Buena Vista Pictures' PG-13 rated fantasy pic Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl remained strong in sixth place in its seventh week with an ESTIMATED $7.3 million (-20%) at 2,404 theaters (-306 theaters; $2,500 per theater). Its cume is approximately $261 million.
Directed by Gore Verbinski and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, it stars Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley.
Universal Pictures' PG-13 rated equestrian drama Seabiscuit gained a spot to finish in the No. 7 position in its fifth week with ESTIMATED $6.3 million (-22%) in 2,534 theaters (+72 theaters; $2,500 per theater). Its cume is approximately $93.1 million and headed for the $100 million mark.
Directed by Gary Ross, it stars Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges and Chris Cooper as three down-and-out men who find fame and fortune in an equally down-and-out racehorse.
MGM's PG-13 rated riches-to-rags tale Uptown Girls dropped three rungs to place eight in its second week with an ESTIMATED $5.6 million (-50%) in 2,495 theaters (unchanged; $2,244 per theater). Its cume is approximately $22.3 million.
Directed by Boaz Yakin, it stars Brittany Murphy, Dakota Fanning, Donald Faison, Marley Shelton and Heather Locklear.
Universal Picture's R rated teen comedy American Wedding fell two spots to finish ninth in fourth week with an ESTIMATED $5.7 million (-34%) at 2,467 theaters (-518 theaters; $2,260 per theater). Its cume is $90.6 million.
Directed by Jesse Dylan, it stars Jason Biggs, Seann William Scott, Alyson Hannigan, Eddie Kaye Thomas and Thomas Ian Nicholas.
Rounding out the Top Ten is Dimension Films' PG-13 rated fowl comedy My Boss's Daughter, which debuted in tenth place with an ESTIMATED $5 million in 2,201 theaters with a $2,272 per theater average.
In the film, a young executive housesits for his boss and tends to his prized pet owl in hopes of skipping a few rungs up the corporate ladder.
Directed by David Zucker, it stars Ashton Kutcher, Tara Reid, Molly Shannon and Andy Richter.
Paramount Pictures R rated hip-hop comedy Marci X opened to a disappointing $875,000 in 1,200 theaters with a $721 per theater average.
In the film, a New York Jewish socialite is forced to take over a hard-core hip-hop label and deal with a controversial rapper whose record is gaining some negative publicity.
Directed by Paul Rudnick, it stars Lisa Kudrow, Damon Wayans, Richard Benjamin, Christine Baranski and Jane Krakowski.
Fox Searchlight's R rated teen drama Thirteen, meanwhile, opened in five theaters to an impressive $112,213 with a $22,443 per theater average.
The movie focuses on an innocent, pigtailed 13-year-old who enters junior high with a promising future ahead of her, until she falls in with the ultra-popular, hottest girl in school and is introduced to a world of sex, drugs and misdemeanors.
Directed by Catherine Hardwicke, it stars Holly Hunter, Evan Rachel Wood and Nikki Reed.
Miramax Film's PG-13 rated comedy The Battle of Shaker Heights, winner of the 2002 Project Greenlight competition developed by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, also opened in limited release this week. The film took in $52,000 in 5 theaters with a $10,400 per theater average.
Set in the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights, the film is about a teenage World War II buff and battle re-enactor, Kelly Enswiler, who is encouraged by a new friend to take on the school bully.
Directed by Kyle Rankin and Efram Potelle, it stars Shia LaBeouf, Kathleen Quinlan, Amy Smart and Shiri Appleby.
Last year's top three included: Buena Vista's PG-13 rated sci-fi thriller Signs, which reclaimed the No. 1 spot in its fourth week of release with $14.2 million at 3,453 theaters ($4,137 per theater average); Sony's PG-13 rated actioner xXx, which dropped to second place its third week with $13.2 million in 3,517 theaters ($3,770 per theater average); and Dimension's Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams, which came in third in its third week with $7.5 million at 3,307 theaters ($2,295 per theater).