This Means War, the story of two CIA agents wielding their resources to win a woman’s heart, is a profound political allegory about the United States government’s questionable allocation of assets and abuse of power.
Of course, that’s a lie, but someone has to come up with a justification for why two hours of this banal, uncharismatic drivel got to our silver screens since the filmmakers never quite manage it on their own.
The film follows bromantic secret spy agents Tuck Henson and FDR Foster (Tom Hardy and Chris Pine, respectively). Despite allegedly being top operatives, they’re quickly “grounded” after failing at both spying and being secretive in a botched assassination attempt on two international criminals known as the Heinrich brothers. As a result, the pair becomes the target of the surviving Heinrich, who has a deadly vendetta.
This threat to lives and national security, however, barely registers in the face of their bigger problems: girl troubles. With little left to do without all that spying wasting their time, the duo fall into a few coincidentally-placed encounters, ending with both spies dating the lovely, slightly type-A Lauren Scott (Reese Witherspoon). What ensues is a shenanigan-laden fight between the gentlemen for the lady’s affections with a few exploding cars thrown in for good measure.
The new subgenre of romaction comedy has never hit its potential, and This Means War doesn’t help. Exploding cars are great, but the action’s spacing is sporadic at best, with references to the Heinrich subplot anticlimactically peppered in just to emphasize that, at one point, these two men did have jobs outside of stalking Lauren.
Oddly enough, it doesn’t make the voyeuristic nature of the love triangle less creepy. Suspension of disbelief is essential for any film, but This Means War asks a lot of its audiences – like ignoring the ethical abuses of the CIA filming Lauren during sex – and worse, we get nothing in return, unless watching three powerhouse actors reduced to coasting as barely likeable characters with cheesy dialogue and stilted relationships is a reward.
Yet, for all it fails to deliver on the action or romantic front of romaction comedy, the film does manage where most others crash and burn: the humor. The movie doesn’t feature Oscar Wilde-level witticisms, but the unabashed dialogue is often funnier than not and as long as viewers don’t expect too much, there is a surprising surplus of hilarious interactions.
This Means War is a cautionary tale about observing the rules of mutually-assured destruction. It could have had a happy life, but forcing two Hollywood superpower genres like action and romantic comedy into contact only led to a movie so one-dimensional and awkward that even the film’s bright explosions of humor cannot distract from its inevitable self-annihilation.