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This Means War is a shoddy epic romance adventure missing many of the main components that made Charlie’s Angels and some of McG’s better directorial efforts oodles of fun. A Tom Hardy/Chris Pine endeavor should have been a no brainer, but somehow this flick misses the mark on all counts: romance, comedy, and action. That isn’t to say there aren't plenty of things blowing up or feeble jokes attempted, but the timing is off on most of these, likely due to some ill-advised film editing.
The bromance is at the heart of the storyline in This Means War, despite the film also featuring a female lead. Tuck (Hardy) and FDR (Pine) are best friends who also have each other’s backs in the CIA. One day, Tuck decides to spin the online-dating wheel, inspiring ridicule from his best bud. Later, FDR happens to meet the same woman in a video store and the two spend the rest of the flick one-upping each other to compete for Lauren’s (Witherspoon) attentions.
It may be easier to flesh out a bromance, but This Means War leaves little room for its women, played by Chelsea Handler and Reese Witherspoon. Handler’s Trish is a potty-mouthed former train wreck whose only narrative substance is to give the naively-written Witherspoon a dose of advice asking her to relive the days before she ended up married to a Cheeto-loving bearded wonder. Nor does the intelligent, career-woman angle work for Lauren when she ends up listening to her destructive friend’s advice. Lauren’s supposed to be the business end of a product-testing company, but she seems to have the brains of a frog when it comes to anything related to men. At least she’s really, really pretty.
All this could be easy to forgive if the film's spy plotline was given a ghost of a chance; however, the spy theme is more than a way to integrate fun weaponry and other technological resources into a plotline that would otherwise be a less bold production. Poor Angela Bassett’s in this film only to bark orders at Tuck and FDR like a nun chastising naughty schoolboys on the playground. Someone needed to do this, though, as the two men waste time and resources trying to earn playdates when there is actually a bad guy in this plotline.
Which brings us to the villain, a whisper of a problem who finally appears onscreen halfway through the film. Heinrich (Til Schweiger) is a German with a ferocious face, but otherwise, we don’t see many of his bad-guy credentials. He’s mostly there as a catalyst to force Tuck and FDR to unite to save the day. This creates a problem when random CIA action shots are juxtaposed with the romance competition in a haphazard way. Neither ever seems to get enough screen time and the finished product is a total mess. What’s worse is it's never particularly compelling to watch.
Shallow, blank, and boring, This Means War occasionally gets out a joke that shines slightly brighter than mindless, giving us the hope this movie might be worth pulling out again on a Sunday afternoon. Honestly, if you’re the type that likes the occasional exploding object in the background, the film provides enough sight gags that there actually may be room for the flick in your Blu-Ray collection. For anyone who is even looking for a small step beyond the gratuitous, This Means War will neither be a fun afternoon romp on cable or a good addition to your permanent collection. It’s a mental wasteland with a dash of retread.
The disc forces you to choose either the theatrical version or the extended version, which always confuses the hell out of me when I’m trying to do the disc review. I never claimed I was remote competent. Once I found the extras, I learned most of them are outtake related and most of them can be viewed with or without commentary from McG.
Extras on the disc include “Bachelorette Party,” an extended look at Lauren’s “friendships,” which basically features a bunch of appearances from Handler’s comedy posse. Following this are a ton of deleted scenes. I watched these with the commentary, first, and learned that most of these character-building scenes were cut because they did not fit the pace of the film. It’s too bad, because I do believe the audience could have done with more scenes with Tuck bonding with his family, with Witherspoon behaving with a little more edge, and of Tuck and Pine inadvertently talking about their dates without realizing those dates were with the same woman.
The alternate-endings section takes a look at all of the possible ways the film could have ended up, which are worth watching. However, the alternate opening is a ridiculous Sims cartoon interspersed with hand-drawn screenshots that really do not need to be part of the disc. Just because a director has something does not mean he or she should share it. There was also the gag reel, which I never recommend, but if that’s your thing, it does exist on the disc.
Altogether, McG seems to have shot a lot of extra film. If he had just put the pieces together a little more carefully, This Means War could have been a very different film.
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