What are we to make of this McG character? What feels like a long, long time ago he gave us a strange yet strangely appealing movie version of Charlie's Angels, a bright, loud, angular picture that somehow turned all of its junky parts into trash art. Had a new Warholian populist been born, an almost queer-camp fetishist with an eye for explosions? Well, as it turns out, no. No, not at all. Charlie's Angels was a weird fluke it would seem, as each of the four films this McG has directed since — Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, We Are Marshall, Terminator Salvation, and now the drearily noisy This Means War — have been inert endeavors with distinctly nothing to show or tell us. Sure McG has produced some solid B-level TV entertainment, shows like The O.C. and Supernatural, but as a director he's proven useless. And This Means War, a romantic comedy entirely devoid of either romance or comedy, may represent the nadir of that uselessness.
This Means War is about two cocksure loose cannon CIA spooks, played with empty machismo by the increasingly irksome Chris Pine and the far better than this Tom Hardy, who are the kind of "shoot first, questions are for nerds" dudes that I thought we were sorta done with in action movies. (Oh, yes, this is sort of an action movie too.) I thought we were in a more bespoke, thoughtful, Joseph Gordon-Levitt/Ryan Gosling era of action hero, but I guess not. Here to prove me wrong are Doofus and Doofuser, come to wreck your house, make an unfunny quip, and make off with your daughter. Well, OK, to be fair, the character that Hardy plays, Tuck, is sensitive, he's a divorced family man with a son whom he loves. He's that one. He's the Martin Lawrence to Chris Pine's smooth player Will Smith. (Just rent Bad Boys this weekend.) But yes, mostly they are both boors who break things and whom a stern mommy/boss (played by poor, poor Angela Bassett) often has to scold. What catches, right??
Well, unfortunately for this movie and for us, yes, they are supposed to be quite debonair and appealing. The beneficiary of all this sexy is Reese Witherspoon's character Lauren, a spunky nobody who works at some kind of product testing company and who has an ex-fiancé whom she keeps running into when she's embarrassingly by herself. ("Sushi for one!" a Japanese waiter cries at her when she bumps into the guy and his new lady at a restaurant. Haw haw, sad lonely lady eating alone, how embarrassing.) Both feeling lonely one night and apparently never having heard of such a thing before, Tuck and Lauren sign up for an online dating service they see advertised on television. And though Lauren's friend, played with toxic mania by Chelsea Handler, makes her profile all sexy and ridiculous to attract the men, Tuck messages her anyway and they find themselves on a date together, laughing and being cute and saying things like "You're not so bad yourself." So it's a great date, yay for them. Except on her way home, Lauren stops at a video store (seriously, between that and the awe at online dating, this script had to have been hastily dusted off from 1995, right?) and, wouldn't you know it, meets cute with Pine's character, whose name for some reason is FDR. They eventually make a date after he aggressively courts her by obnoxiously bothering her at work, and you can see where this is going, right?
The dudes eventually figure out that they're dating the same chick and they decide that they're going to compete to see who can win her. There's a no sex rule, but other than that all's fair. What follows is the bulk of this egregiously unpleasant movie, a series of scenes of date sabotage and trickery that are supposed to make us laugh and occasionally awww at some cute thing one of these dirty puppy guys do. This is the kind of movie where the girl has a Klimt painting in her house so the guy figures she likes Klimt so he pretends to be an expert on Klimt and that wins her over. Yay! Lying! Oh, also she likes dogs, so the guy likes dogs all of a sudden, which she thinks is neat. Old cars? Hey, her dad had an old car, and now this guy is taking her to drive an old car, so it must true love. It's that kind of boring, sexist nonsense gimmick courtship stuff for the whole movie, essentially, until all of a sudden we're commanded to believe that some deeper bond has formed while we were in the bathroom or something. There's also an action/espionage plotline to be dealt with, and obviously a choice between the two guys to be made, but I won't bother you with any of those details because they're all so utterly meaningless. This is lazy writing and filmmaking of the lowest order, and the three main actors seem to be stifling cringes in almost every scene.
Which is a shame, because Hardy is an exciting new guy on the scene and Witherspoon was so lovable once. What happened to the smarts and edge she showed so long ago in Freeway and Election? Hopefully her next three pictures — a movie from Take Shelter director Jeff Nichols, a biopic of Margaret Keane, a film about the West Memphis Three — will deliver her from the mess she's been in since she won that damn accursed Oscar. Yes, let's look forward. Best to just move on from and forget This Means War. Best for her, best for us, best for everybody else involved. This is an entirely valueless product, an empty plastic container, a bit of non-biodegradable debris that will eventually be collected in that refuse heap that's floating out in the Pacific Ocean. There's nothing to be learned here except one thing: I will never see a movie directed by McG ever again. New rule! It will never happen again. This isn't war, Mr. McG. This is retreat.