By Steve Persall
Times Movie Critic
This Means War is a messy hybrid of what men and women generally want in movies, with neither getting entirely what they need.
On one hand — the one wearing a wedding ring — it's a typical rom-com in which people who don't get along at first eventually will, a love triangle is resolved by one side having a romantic option, and the remaining happy couple both have dreamy blue eyes. There's a tart-tongued sidekick giving advice to the lady, and improbable one-upsmanship between the gentlemen.
On the other hand — the one carrying a gun — This Means War is a frenetic action flick with CIA agents spraying bullets and wisecracks across the screen, a couple of brawls and a car chase. There's a boss barking orders, and a scowling bad guy to find, which isn't tough since he's chasing the heroes, seeking revenge.
The only way these Venus and Mars fantasies can blend is with irresistible actors being effortlessly adorable and/or deadly. This Means War doesn't have that. It has Reese Witherspoon continuing her strange quest to be Meg Ryan, fluttery and easily led by the heart. It has Chris Pine, too sensitive to be a secret agent, and Tom Hardy, too rugged for light romance. Everyone tries hard. Too hard.
Witherspoon plays Lauren Scott, a smart and lovely product testing supervisor who inexplicably can't find anyone interested in her. Lauren has chance encounters then dates with two hunks: a cruise ship captain named FDR (Pine) and a travel agent named Tuck (Hardy). Her best friend and confidante is Trish, played with obviously improvised lewdness by Chelsea Handler.
What Lauren doesn't know is that FDR and Tuck are partners in crime fighting, and related by marriage to boot. After discovering they're dating the same woman, the bromance hits the rocks. Both agents use every CIA gadget at their disposal to undercut the other. Occasionally they remember that they're supposed to be pursuing Heinrich (Til Schweiger), a generic evil mastermind.
The action is standard stuff, with shattering glass, squealing tires and gunmen sliding across the floor. Just what you expect from director McG (Terminator Salvation, Charlie's Angels), who is rightfully more concerned with the love triangle complications.
In that regard, This Means War is fitfully amusing, with FDR and Tuck gathering intelligence on Lauren as if she were a national security risk. One marvelously staged sequence has Lauren dancing perky around her home, unaware that the guys are planting surveillance devices, all filmed in a single, gliding take. FDR learns Lauren admires the art of Gustav Klimt, so he arranges a private exhibition that Tuck wittily sabotages. Mostly, however, the charades and double crosses aren't as clever.
At least This Means War is an equal opportunity misfire, with as much appeal for men as women, compared to a one-sided weeper like The Vow. Shuffle a few reels of that movie with the ballistic hoo-hah of Safe House and the results would look something like this.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365.