McG’s This Means War is the latest in the bizarre subgenre of the rom-com pseudo-spy thrillers. Think True Lies (1994) or that awful Ashton Kutcher/Katherine Heigl vehicle Killers (2010). In this case, we get two CIA agents—FDR Foster (Chris Pine) and Tuck (played by the obviously British Tom Hardy, leaving us to assume that he’s part of some spy-exchange program)—who soon realize that they are dating the same woman, Lauren (Reese Witherspoon).
The majority of the film consists of FDR and Tuck using the full power of the CIA—hidden cameras, wiretaps, spy planes—to vie for the affections of Lauren, all the while trying to keep their life-long friendship intact. There are a few problems with this set up, namely that I can’t see why anyone would put so much energy into fighting over this woman. Never, at any point, does she exhibit anything resembling a personality. (Although she does once refer to The Lady Vanishes as “second-tier Hitchcock,” which was the deal-breaker for me.) What we’re left with to explain Lauren’s appeal are some scripted-in, tacked-on affectations—she loves dogs, art and Montell Jordan—which only serve to make her seem like a boring, dime-a-dozen stereotype of the middle-class American blonde. None of this creates a character deserving of two CIA agents’ time dedicated to winning her heart—and if you want to get into it, untold amounts of American tax dollars. Of course, there’s also the argument that these beefy, perfectly coiffed guys are more interested in each other than some woman—there’s certainly enough subtext (like the big “I love you, bro!” climax) to support this.
There’s a subplot in place involving an evil Russian (Til Schweiger, New Year’s Eve) out for revenge on our heroic spies, but this is really there to push the plot forward, make the whole spy angle work, and to let our boys indulge in a bit of action-star muscle flexing. It’s all quite tiresome really, as This Means War comes across as the mid-life crisis of action films. It yearns so much to be hip and stylish, while having no clue how that translates in 2012. The resulting film is the cinematic equivalent of watching your dad riding around in a Camaro listening to The Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage.” (That we get both muscle cars and numerous appearances of said song in the film only drives this point home). This is, after all, a film directed by a grown man who calls himself McG, who—once upon a time 12 years ago—was briefly a big deal for directing Sugar Ray videos. Times, it seems, have changed.
If you’re the type to look for some kind of silver-lining, Hardy proves that he has all the requirements to be a leading man. Hopefully this is the start of him outgrowing his usual supporting roles. Unfortunately, his talent is wasted in a movie with literally nothing else going for it. Rated R for some sexual content.