DIR: McG • WRI: Timothy Dowling, Simon Kinberg • PRO: Simon Kinberg, James Lassiter, Robert Simonds, Will Smith • DOP: Russell Carpenter • ED: Nicolas De Toth, Jesse Driebusch • DES: Martin Laing • Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, Chelsea Handler
Remember McG? The barely named director was seen as a Hollywood wunderkind in the early 2000s after his kinetic, girl power nonsense take Charlie’s Angels was released. One intelligence-insulting sequel and a Terminator reboot with more plot holes than six viewings of Inception later, McG has managed to keep himself in the game by producing semi-popular schlock TV, such as The OC and Supernatural.
Now he’s back in the director’s chair with this self-important action comedy. This Means War is a confused film that attempts to be the ultimate date movie, pitting two best friend super-spies against one another for the hand of the girl they both fancy. Dripping in eye candy for women and full of Sex and the City-style ‘witticisms’ about penises while boasting less-than-inspired action, few men are likely to come out of this feeling they got a fair share.
Chris Pine and Tom Hardy play FDR and Tuck, two top CIA agents reduced to deskwork after a mission goes awry. FDR is cocky and up for anything. Tuck wants to settle down and is inexplicably English. One day, at separate times, the pair each meet Lauren (Reese Witherspoon), a feisty, no-nonsense girl who is fed up with disappointing men. Tuck falls head over heels. FDR finds he may want more than just a quickie for the first time ever.
Of course, the friends soon realise they’re dating the same girl, and a high-tech pissing contest soon begins as they use the CIA’s facilities to recon their target, find out what she likes and sabotage each other’s efforts to woo her. It’s entirely as morally inexcusable as it sounds. Not only have they bugged her apartment, but their competitiveness over her reduces Lauren to little more than a sack of meat prize with all spoils going to the victor.
Of course, Lauren is hardly free of blame. Bolstered by her jealous, seemingly miserable married best friend (Chelsea Handler), she proceeds to date two men at once because, sure, guys do it all the time.
This Means War really is about as sexist as a film can get these days. Women are portrayed as irrational, self-centred, needy and borderline bipolar. Sure, men get it pretty bad too – they’re portrayed as being aggressive, competitive and insecure – but comparatively these character defects seem hardly as negative. The film is so convinced it is a modern tale about a woman getting to choose between two near-perfect men, but really it’s more conservative than It’s a Wonderful Life and without a fraction of the charm.
And all this might be excusable if it was well made, but it isn’t. The writing is simply abominable, featuring some of the laziest dialogue you will find. The agents’ boss talks like a mission guide between computer game levels. One of Chelsea Handler’s Carrie Bradshaw-est moments, where she compares a man’s penis to a poltergeist, sounds like it was written by picking nouns at random out of a bowl. Determined to ruin the manlier aspects of the film too, the shaky action sequences are shot by a cameraman who appears to have a bee inside trousers. One sequence, a strobe light-heavy shootout in a strip club, seems determined to seek out the person in the audience with epilepsy and give them the seizure of a lifetime.
In fairness to the actors, the three leads are all up for it, and give their portrayals far more effort than the material deserves. Chelsea Handler brings down the tone enormously however, injecting sheer misery into the film as its “comic” relief.
While the sabotage scenes are fun, they’re not enough to save a film so utterly out of touch with its audience that when the villain wants to track down the film’s two heroes, he goes to FDR’s London-based tailor to find out where the owner of his one-of-a-kind suits lives. No one would care about the film being a sexist tale of the sex-lives of the wealthy if the thing were at least entertaining. Realistically the only viewers who could enjoy this film will be those with uncontrollable lust for Messrs Hardy and Pine and pop culture academics revelling in the simmering homoeroticism at the heart of the movie’s bromance.
Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
This Means War is released on 2nd March 2012