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'This Means War' review: Bromance conquers all

'This Means War' review: Reese Witherspoon's Lauren is the object of the affections of friends played by Chris Pine and Tom Hardy. But the bromance is what sizzles.

February 14, 2012|By Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times Film Critic
  • Tom Hardy, Reese Witherspoon and Chris Pine star in "This Means War."
Tom Hardy, Reese Witherspoon and Chris Pine star in "This Means War." (Kimberley French / 20th…)

It's a hit-and-miss affair as CIA agents/BFFs Chris Pine and Tom Hardy launch highly targeted competing covert love-ops in "This Means War," both aiming for the heart of a consumer products tester played by Reese Witherspoon. Smart, blond, beautiful but unable to get a guy, Witherspoon's Lauren Scott is as perky and perfect as she seems, but this lovely is not what gives the movie its kick.

So if you are in the mood for action, there is a whole lot of it here. If you're in the mood for love, of the swooning, weak-in-the knees sort, there's not so much. But this is war after all, a bromance, not a romance, muscle, not mush.

The relationship that truly sizzles — from the sentiment to the satire — is the one between FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy), with Pine and Hardy pulling off one of the better bromances in recent memory.

It's not as if director McG, who was behind the lethally dark drizzle of 2009's "Terminator Salvation," has gone soft. He has just injected a razzle-dazzle romance into a high-octane, high-tech action flick in which guns and hearts are pretty much blazing 24/7.

This is McG's slickest film yet with slight echoes of the kind of male bonding he explored more seriously in the drama of "We Are Marshall" in 2006. It is also his fastest moving, averaging about 120 mph, the better to bypass the potholes in the plot, with veteran director of photography Russell Carpenter ("Titanic" and "True Lies" among others) knowing when to go in for the romantic close-ups and when to pull back for the action shocks.

The sparks begin when Lauren's best friend Trish, a potty-mouthed mom played by Chelsea Handler, basically doing her Chelsea Handler-brand of female raunch, decides to take Lauren's love life into her own hands, posting a racy page on a dating site. A few continents away, Tuck and FDR are on assignment — a James Bond-styled operation that lands them in a lux penthouse party looking for a bad guy named Heinrich (Til Schweiger) and involves a great deal of roof-top hanging out and hair-raising derring-do.

Back home in L.A., and grounded for all the ways the Heinrich affair went wrong, single-dad Tuck decides to try finding a soul mate online. Lauren's profile is discovered and a date is set with FDR stationed nearby in case an emergency extraction is necessary. A chance encounter changes the plan, and the competition for Lauren that will drive the rest of the film is set in motion.

The cameras, the wiretaps, the tracking devices and the two competing CIA crews that Tuck and FDR enlist to help them chart every move Lauren makes become the chief framing device McG and screenwriters Timothy Dowling ("Role Models") and Simon Kinberg ("Sherlock Holmes") employ. If you can get past the gross invasion of privacy issues that would exist if this were real life and not just a frothy confection, what you have is some bittersweet fun peppered by bursts of sharp patter, the best between the boys.

Hardy ("Inception") and Pine ("Star Trek") are the heart of the film — proving to be excellent opposing sides of the same coin. Both balance their characters' cynicism with a certain sweetness, their chemistry fairly crackling, electrifying the screen almost any time they're sharing it, whether taking down a bad guy or squabbling about who is more lovable (it's a tossup). With Lauren, on the other hand, they are basically gentlemen, so not electrifying.

Though the role doesn't quite get Witherspoon back where she belongs, Lauren has more of the kind of sweet sass that first made the actress into such a cinematic sweetheart. Since her Oscar win for portraying country star June Carter Cash in 2005's "Walk the Line," she has struggled from the middling disappointment of last year's "Water for Elephants" to the downright deplorable comedy of "Four Christmases" with Vince Vaughn in 2008.

As Lauren, she's mostly rock 'n' roll eye candy — a maniac behind the wheel and not so demur in bed either — but there are occasional flashes of some of the better past lives she's had.

betsy.sharkey@latimes.com

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