Charm: we know it when we see it, but it’s impossible to manufacture. Buddy-action-romcom ‘This Means War’ tries so hard to be charming that it’s initially unsettling, then sort of sweet, and finally just pathetic. Which, considering the combined charisma of its cast, is something of an achievement in itself.
Reese Witherspoon is Lauren, a kooky consumer researcher who inadvertently comes between CIA top guns Tuck (Tom Hardy) and FDR (Chris Pine). Realising they’ve been pursuing the same woman, these erstwhile BFF’s are plunged into a war of romantic attrition with all the resources of the Agency’s LA field office at their disposal: surveillance gear, night-vision goggles, knockout pills, the lot.
There’s a decent knockabout comedy buried somewhere inside ‘This Means War’, but it’d take a lot of chipping away to find it. Take, for instance, comedian Chelsea Handler’s turn as Witherspoon’s obligatory loudmouthed, sexually overactive pal: what should be a mildly amusing secondary role is overwritten and horribly played, as Handler aims for fashionable ‘Knocked Up’-style bad taste and comes off like a cross between Joan Rivers and ‘Chubby’ Brown.
There are similar misfires littered throughout the movie: Witherspoon shoots for endearing and ends up simply odd, while Pine goes for smooth and winds up at seedy. Only Hardy emerges with any dignity, and that’s because he doesn’t do much. There are a few decent throwaway gags and director McG knows his way around a shiny action sequence, but ‘This Means War’ is yet another case of Hollywood execs trying way too hard to give the audience what they think it wants.