So here's the thing with This Means War, billed as an action-thriller-romantic comedy: It could be so much better. After having its release date pushed back at the last minute and after toning down at the last minute to earn a PG-13 rating, it is an unmemorable experience.
It's likable enough, as likable as its three high-pedigree leads. But in the past six months you may have seen each of them in movies that are far better than this piece of fluff. They seem to be using This Means War to tide them over until the next good role.
It can be fun but feels unfinished with chunky editing, and dialogue that sounds as if everyone is practicing their rusty improv skills.
The basic premise is that two CIA operatives, distracted from a botched world-traveling mission, discover they are dating the same woman. Despite making a gentleman's agreement that one will step aside for the other when her preference becomes clear, the two begin to use all of their professional resources at hand to spy on and undermine the other's romantic efforts.
Nice to see our tax dollars at work.
We first meet Tuck (Tom Hardy) and FDR (Chris Pine) working in Hong Kong, where they fail spectacularly to capture a deadly, greedy bad guy. They do succeed in killing his brother, which only makes him vengeful and intent on tracking them down.
Back in Los Angeles, Tuck and FDR are "grounded" to their desks and quickly get bored. Tuck, a single dad, decides to subscribe to an Internet dating service. This seems highly unlikely for a CIA agent, even if he is masquerading as a travel agent. FDR, a slick ladies man, mocks him but agrees to linger in a nearby store and await his call if his first date is a disaster.
The date is Lauren (Reese Witherspoon in sweetheart mode), who tests products for a living and is in a bad state after a string of failed relationships. Internet dating is not her idea, forced on her crude by best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler). Tuck and Lauren are charmed immediately, and they make plans to meet again. Lauren leaves the date and immediately runs into FDR, who does not know she is "the date" and proceeds to hit on her.
She is definitely not charmed by FDR, but when he tracks her down to pester her at work she reluctantly agrees to go out with him to get him out of her office.
At work, Tuck and FDR happily show each other photos of the woman they are each smitten with. And the action gets rolling.
Meanwhile, don't forget the bad guy. Heinrich (Til Schweiger) has done a good job of tracking down the CIA spies and can see how they seem to be converging on one woman.
During all this, we are treated to glimpses of two bright sparks, Angela Bassett as their boss and Rosemary Harris as FDR's grandmother. More of both in better films is called for.
The romance part of the story is uncomfortably cliche, especially for Witherspoon. The actors and director McG clearly had a lot of fun in the high-flying action sequences but in the end This Means War doesn't put up much of a fight.
Meanwhile, Witherspoon, Hardy and Pine can move onto the next big thing.