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This Means War 

A perfectly likable cast cringes through an anorexic action-comedy

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This Means War

2 Stars

Chris Pine of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot and Tom Hardy of Inception and Warrior are two of the most appealing actors working; Pine’s charm is one of cocksure swagger and false emotional bravado, a throwback to the Will Smith (a producer on This Means War) “look good doing it” model. Hardy’s appeal is tougher to pin down, but no less present; his hulking physique (which should serve him well as the villain Bane in this summer’s The Dark Knight Rises) seems at odds with the suave, British cool and trouty lips that soften him just enough to keep us guessing. (One sneak-preview attendee commented that Hardy was her favorite, and it’s “too bad he’s gay,” a frequent assumption the actor has, wisely or not, battled in the press.)

When Reese Witherspoon’s Lauren finds herself dating Pine’s smooth-talking CIA agent FDR as well as his partner-in-espionage Tuck (Hardy), she naturally recognizes their respective appeal and elegantly dissects it: FDR has “tiny hands” and Tuck is “British.”

Yes, This Means War is that dumb. Worse, it thinks you are, too.

When the two spies get wise to their respective wooing, a “war” breaks out for Lauren’s affections. Tuck and FDR bug Lauren’s home, install surveillance and heat sensors at strategic points and keep a GPS-enabled eye on each others’ dates. They learn her interests and go to great expense to cater to them, leading to dream-like (in her eyes) outings to an art warehouse, a trapeze exercise and a paintball tournament.

Still unsure of her heart’s desire, Lauren – with the help of a standard horny housewife BFF (Chelsea Handler) – calls for a “sex tiebreaker,” upping the stakes for FDR and Tuck enough to potentially destroy their friendship and, one would think, considering their felonious antics, careers. Meanwhile, the international villain (Til Schweiger) the pair goes up against in the bland “action” opener, has arrived in L.A. and is bent on ending them for good.

For all of its slick locations, This Means War may be the most claustrophobic studio film you’ll see this year. The end credits suggest a cast of dozens, but director McG (Charlie’s Angels) shows no interest in establishing supporting characters or even extras. Everyone not named Pine, Hardy or Witherspoon is shoved to the corners of the frame while the set decoration is minimalist to the point of hostility – with the exception of several glaring specifics that serve no purpose. Why let the camera revel in FDR’s swimming-pool ceiling (a Chekhov’s gun if I’ve ever seen one) if nobody ever crashes through it? Why, when Tuck and FDR finally have the knock-down, homo-erotic fist fight we’ve been waiting for, set it in a fancy restaurant if the patrons simply disappear into the ether as soon as the first punch is thrown?

This Means War is credited to only two writers (one, Simon Kinberg, also wrote this film’s clear source of inspiration, Mr. and Mrs. Smith), but it feels like it was constructed by a committee with focus-group worksheets in hand. It’s been so thoroughly stripped of anything remotely offensive that one hopes they simply threw the story out with the bathwater. The alternative is too depressing (and probably accurate) to ponder: There was never a story to begin with; merely a pitch and a cast.

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