Hollywood usually designs its love triangles more along the lines of isosceles than equilateral. It must be absolutely clear which two partners the audience is supposed to root for, and the third is usually painted as slimy or annoying.
If the partners are equal, as they are in the new “This Means War,” it’s problematic.
The movie therefore strives to solve problems of script rather than of character. Even worse, the middle character — in this case product tester Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) — comes across like an indecisive idiot.
It begins as secret agents and best friends FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy) make a mess of their latest assignment, leaving an angry gangster (Til Schweiger) seeking revenge.
Grounded and bored, the dreamy, romantic Tuck joins a dating site. FDR, a skilled pick-up artist, scoffs at such devices.
Meanwhile, Lauren has one of those annoying movie “best friends” (Chelsea Handler), whose only concern is for the main character’s romantic and/or sex life. She signs Lauren up for the same dating site.
Tuck meets Lauren, and their date is a hit. Unfortunately, FDR also spies Lauren later the same day. She rebuffs him, and he’s fascinated.
Both agents use all the technology and information at their disposal to begin spying on Lauren, and subsequently turn that information into competitive dating tips.
No one seems to care about the illegal and immoral side to the activities, least of all director McG, a former music video maker.
McG (“Charlie’s Angels,” “Terminator Salvation”), who prefers a slick, swooping, single-shot style, sometimes is quite good at action sequences. Unfortunately, there’s just one good one here, when both agents slip through Lauren’s house, planting bugs while she cluelessly bounces around to a hip-hop tune.
Otherwise, the junky action scenes ignore laws of space and time, jumping around like mosquitoes.
Conversely, McG’s weakness is in developing character and story (the screenplay was written by Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg with an assist by Marcus Gautesen), and since they make up about 80 percent of the movie, we’re left stranded. Conversations are dreadfully forced and shrill, not helped by the off-kilter, arrhythmic editing.
Adding to the insult is the fact that Lauren is such a passive character, cheerfully and unquestioningly giving up her privacy and freedom in the name of “love.”
It’s dismaying that Witherspoon, once a tough and promising actress, plays her.
This Means War ★
Starring Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, Til Schweiger, Chelsea Handler, Angela Bassett, Rosemary Harris
Written by Timothy Dowling, Simon Kinberg
Directed by McG
Running time 1 hour 38 minutes