By Michael Phillips 2013-01-18

By Michael Phillips

Tribune Newspapers Critic

1 star

In "This Means War," the CIA operatives played by Chris Pine and Tom Hardy fall for the same woman, a consumer products tester played by Reese Witherspoon. At first the boys agree to let the best agent win, seduction-wise, while Witherspoon's Lauren puzzles through her feelings regarding her suitors, whom she believes to be a cruise ship captain and a travel agent, respectively.

Then the lads' alpha male surveillance instincts get the better of them, and a sour premise becomes a pretty ugly state of affairs. Double-entendres about "entering the premises" litter the script.

The fellows take turns foiling each other's sexual progress in increasingly elaborate and James Bondian ways, at immense expense to the American taxpayer. Their voyeuristic one-upmanship isn't amusing. It's more like none-upmanship. Occasionally the film lurches back to its B plot line, involving an international arms dealer (Til Schweiger, Sgt. Stiglitz of "Inglourious Basterds"). The bulk of the film, the A plot, rates an F.

Thanks to the success seven years ago of "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and written by "This Means War" co-writer Simon Kinberg, we've endured quite a few terrible "Smith" knockoffs in which assassins' bullets fly while verbal bullets go squib-squib-squib all over the place.

The ideal audience for "This Means War" is anybody who enjoyed "Knight and Day" (the one with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz) and "Killers" (Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl). In the film press materials, Witherspoon had this to say regarding her latest: "It's almost like two different movies. My character's in a comedy and Chris' and Tom's are in a big action film." Yes, and they're both lame.

Am I alone in resisting this subgenre of adorable assassins and their complicated love lives? Entertainments blending spiky comic repartee and outsize physical action (plus a formidable body count) tended to go down more easily in the Cold War days, when Alfred Hitchcock's "North by Northwest" served as a prelude to the Bond franchise, and a diversion such as Stanley Donen's "Charade" could disarm moviegoers who had come for Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn and, as such, found themselves pleasantly discombobulated by all the killings.

"This Means War" is pure, witless discombobulation. The director is McG, of the "Charlie's Angels" franchise and "We Are Marshall." (He should shorten that handle of his, either to "Mc" or just plain "G.") He choreographs and frames the action here in such a way as to be spatially incoherent -- as in the Hong Kong-set prelude -- or tonally berserk -- as in a later, massively destructive clash between the male leads. In the Tom Arnold "True Lies" supporting slot, Chelsea Handler (as Lauren's kibitzing married friend, Trish) offers smutty wisecracks a-plenty, if not a-funny, enough to risk the PG-13 rating; it took two appeals, in fact, to rate the film down from an R.

The superbright color palette is designed for high spirits, but the behavior of the alleged rooting interests is repellent, especially Pine's smug Lothario. Repartee does not come easily to the hugely talented Hardy, who always seems on the verge of a bloodbath.

And note to Witherspoon: "This Means War" is the sort of consumer product you're supposed to test before you win an Academy Award, not after.

MPAA rating: PG-13 (for some sexual content including references, some violence and action, and for language).

Running time: 1:36.

Cast: Reese Witherspoon (Lauren); Chris Pine (FDR Foster); Tom Hardy (Tuck), Chelsea Handler (Trish).

Credits: Directed by McG; written by Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg; produced by Robert Simonds, James Lassiter, Will Smith and Simon Kinberg. A 20th Century Fox release.

Back to Movie Details

Movie News

Actress Emma Stone poses for photographers during a photo call for the film Irrational Man, at the 68th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Friday, May 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau)
The movies that will keep buzzing after CannesFrom 'Carol' to 'The Green Room,' the movies that will keep buzzing after Cannes
The Associated Press2 hours ago
FILE- In this May 23, 2015 file photo, from right, Sean Harris, Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender pose for photographers upon arrival for the screening of the film Macbeth at the 68th international film festival, Cannes, southern France. Fashion highlights from the 68th Cannes international film festival.(AP Photo/Thibault Camus, File)
France touts Cannes prizes as vindication for film subsidiesFrance, in jab at US, celebrates film subsidies after strong showing at Cannes festival
The Associated Press3 hours ago
This photo provided by Sony Pictures Entertainment shows Bradley Cooper, left, and Rachel McAdams in a scene from Columbia Pictures' "Aloha." The movie releases in U.S. theaters on May 29, 2015. (Neal Preston/Sony Pictures Entertainment via AP)
Some Native Hawaiians disapprove of 'Aloha' movie titleSoon-to-be-released 'Aloha' movie draws disapproval for using Hawaiian word for title
The Associated Press4 hours ago
FILE - In this Oct. 11, 1994 file photo, Princeton University professor John Nash speaks during a news conference at the school in Princeton, N.J., after being named the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for economics. Nash, whose struggle with schizophrenia was chronicled in the 2001 movie "A Beautiful Mind,” died in a car crash along with his wife in New Jersey on Saturday, May 23, 2015, police said. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)
John Nash: A life of great struggle and even greater successJohn Nash, 'A Beautiful Mind' and an inspiration for those struggling and striving, dies at 86
The Associated Press7 hours ago
Director Jacques Audiard, foreground, thanks the jury as he is presented the Palme d’Or award for his film Dheepan during the awards ceremony at the 68th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Sunday, May 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau)
Audiard's 'Dheepan' wins Palme d'Or in upset Cannes finaleJacques Audiard's 'Dheepan' wins Palme d'Or in upset finale of 68th Cannes Film Festival
The Associated Press11 hours ago
Movie News