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Friday, February 24, 2012

This Means War

Chris Pine! Tom Hardy! Reese Witherspoon! Total Bollocks!

Also at Channel24 

What it's about

Two secret agents and best friends find that they're both dating the same woman.

What we thought

If there is one criticism hurled at critics time and time again is that they're out of step with the “general public” in that they spend so much time analysing a film that they are unable to sit back and simply take it for what it is. Without getting to the validity – or severe lack thereof – of this argument, it usually comes up either on the release of a new “art film”, in which case the critic is accused of a pretentious need to look smarter than the “average” film goer, or on the release of big-budget blockbusters, in which case the critic is accused of over-analysing what is supposed to be nothing more than a couple of hours of brainless entertainment.

This Means War, the latest from the man known as McG (Charlie's Angels, Terminator Salvation) is as perfect an example of the latter as it is possible to have. Lets see if this film critic, at least, could cast aside his usual “critical elitism” and judge it purely on what it's trying to do. Lets put aside all those ghastly criteria on which we critics like to snobbishly rate a film – cinematography, direction, pacing, acting, scripting and, heaven help us all, story and character – and judge it purely on the most simple of questions: does This Means War work as a piece of brainless, silly entertainment?

Well, if nothing else, it certainly looks like it should be entertaining. After all, it's bright, it's zippy, and it has loads of (attempted) “witty banter” between two of the biggest new names in Hollywood, Chris Pine (the Captain Kirk that isn't William Shatner) and Tom Hardy (the Bane that isn't the bloke from Batman and Robin). It even has the almost always likeable Reese Witherspoon as the object of their affection and some big ol' bombastic action scenes to boot! What's not to love?

Plenty, as it happens. One needn't even harp on about the film's moronic plot or that its “heroes” are increasingly skeevy, voyeuristic stalkers because the film is so mind-numbingly boring, so utterly bereft of laughs and so hopelessly tired and predictable that it's inconceivable that even those viewers who expect nothing from their films than lowest common denominator crap, will find anything to enjoy here.

Aside, perhaps, for Chelsea Handler whose bitchy best friend character is supposed to be funny and is instead horribly obnoxious, it certainly isn't the actors' fault that This Means War is such a damp squib of a film. Witherspoon has very little to work with but she brings her usual charm to the proceedings, while Pine and Hardy are clearly having a good time, even if they are so obviously slumming it.

It is clearly McG on which almost all of the blame must lay – with a fair amount of rotten tomatoes of course saved for the screenwriters of the wretched thing. Forget that it's idiotic, clichéd and weirdly accepting of stalker behaviour, This Means War is made by a director who seems to have put no effort whatsoever in making anything that occurs on screen even remotely engaging.

The jokes are badly timed when they're not simply inexcusably lame, while the action scenes almost seem thrown in as an afterthought. Indeed, the entire “spy vs. spy” premise (hands up everyone who, based on the trailer, thought that the film was actually an adaptation of that old Mad comic strip, Spy vs Spy) seems like it was crowbarred in to add some excitement to what is otherwise a banal romcom. It didn't work. Not only is this a film that won't even appeal to the rather forgiving romcom crowd, the spy sub-plot is so forgettable that even though I saw the film less than a week ago, I can't even begin to tell you what it was about.

It might be too relentlessly ordinary to ever scrape the absolute bottom of the barrel but This Means War is still a piss-poor excuse for a throwaway romantic/action-comedy that is sure to leave “ordinary movie-going folks” every bit as underwhelmed as us snot-nosed critics.


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