This Means War

It’s only March but This Means War is already the frontrunner to be the worst film of the year. One thing is for certain, 2012 has nowhere to go but up.

A tuneless cover version of Francois Truffaut’s classic love-triangle Jules et Jim, the latest brain-numbing romantic comedy from Charlie’s Angels director McG plays out like an ultraviolent toothpaste commercial; visually ugly, politically gruesome and desperately unfunny. In fact, the only thing that McG does right is to cower behind his abbreviated moniker. If you made films this bad, you wouldn’t want people to know your real name either.

The Jules character is known as F.D.R. (Chris Pine), while the Jim is Tuck (Tom Hardy). They are best friends and co-workers at the CIA, who seem to spend every waking moment together. Reese Witherspoon plays bubbly blonde Lauren, a lonely-hearted singleton who signs up for a dating website and attracts the malignant attention of the two emotionally-arrested agents. She doesn’t know that they are CIA agents and best friends and are fighting each other for her amorous attentions. Also unbeknownst to Lauren, they are using sophisticated espionage technology in order to more accurately pitch their woo.

They tap her phone, install listening devices in her home, trawl through her private records and track her every move using hidden cameras and satellites. Having diverted the vast resources of the CIA into gathering a bank of information, the two men then sit and watch each other trying to seduce the young woman, eavesdropping as she gets advice from her exhausted-looking friend Trish (Chelsea Handler). Not only is their behaviour immoral and illegal, it’s inordinately time consuming, even in terms of the shiny, brutal fantasy world that McG strains to invoke. But worse, all this supposedly fun snooping about takes Witherspoon’s already ridiculous character and turns her into nothing more than a target for well-equipped stalkers. And that’s just creepy.

As all of this is going on, F.D.R. and Tuck become embroiled in a vendetta waged by grim-faced European bank robber Heinrich (a scowling Til Schweiger) in a sub-plot that does nothing but provide a hint that there is a world outside the over-designed halls of their CIA office. An opening shoot-out between the tuxedo-clad agents and Heinrich’s heavily-armed goons is staged in a manner that is both logically implausible and visually incoherent; the latter deficiency intended to disguise the former. If these sequences weren’t there, nobody would miss them, with the added advantage that the film would be about thirty minutes shorter.

This Means War sees modern romance as a battlefield where there is no such thing as personal space or privacy, where aggressive bullying is mistaken for charm, gunplay is confused with foreplay and women are reduced to prey. These characters are not people, or even action-movie exaggerations, but toothy zombies with short skirts, rippling biceps and itchy trigger fingers. Their dialogue is a blithe catalogue of lies. Their smiles are artificially whitened and their eyes have been carefully brightened by some diabolical software programme, but their hearts remain pitch black. In one scene, the two goons team up for an operation and end up assassinating about a dozen people between them. They saunter away from the bullet-strewn mayhem without a care in the world, cheerfully discussing their ongoing plans for romantic capture. The fantasy being conjured here is not love, or even sex, but death without consequences.

Witherspoon’s character works for a company that conducts market research on new products. As a kind of consumer advocate myself, be warned that This Means War is not fit for purpose and, in fact, contains such corrosive poison it might eat away at your soul.

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