McG has never been a popular directer, but I was excited for This Means War, his first movie since The Great Terminator Disaster of 2009. Here was a movie that seemed destined away from failure – three likable, fresh A-Listers taking each other on in a genrefied, cat-and-mouse take on the Romantic Comedy.
But what I failed to fully take into account was that this was a movie directed by McG. And even though This Means War really doesn’t feel like it’s that far away from being the throwback comedy romp I was hoping for, it’s more obviously a mediocre let-down.
A lot of things work, though. The story has such an obviously Hollywood-friendly log-line, it’s shocking that it hasn’t already been made into a movie. It follows two best friend spies that fall for the same girl. When they discover they share a sweetheart, they turn it into a game – whoever gets the girl wins!
See? Fun! At the very least, it’s one of the few Romantic Comedies that doesn’t play shamelessly to the finer sex.
If anything, it may be too much of a guy’s movie. Tom Hardy and Chris Pine are cast as the male’s leads, and rightfully so considering how much crossover appeal they have with normal-crushes as well as man-crushes (Captain Kirk plz? Tom Hardy 4 Lifez!). Even if Hardy can’t do comedy as adroitly as Pine (as we all saw in Star Trek,) both are clearly having fun on screen, something elementally important for this easy-spirited of a comedy. And though her role is ultimately less important, Reese Witherspoon can do this sort of thing in her sleep.
Even the set design is fun, throwing together scenes that look like they could have been shot on a sound stage in the 60s. Super cool spy headquarters and unbelievably colorful product-testing spaces litter the place, and I haven’t even mentioned the Sky-Pool.
It all should work – and maybe it did if you looked at the dailies. But it’s impossible to stay afloat in McG’s short editing, which minimalizes every beat by cutting away to another moment. You know a movie is handycapping itself when Til “Hugo Stiglitz” Schweiger plays a bad guy, and the onscreen result is totally toothless. The movie was chopped by Nicolas De Toth who, despite an impressively badass name, is known for editing inappropriately mild features like Underworld: Evolution and X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
That’s not the only problem. The ending is stupid (she chose him?), on top of trying to pull a conventional ending out of a utterly silly set-up. And the script is full of clichés, though nothing that a good cast can’t make up for.
And neither of these problems could have kept from enjoying a silly Valentine’s Day diversion. Instead, thanks to a cut-rate pace, This Means War settles for speeding through its set-up and thrills, as if afraid it can’t deliver the goods on its own.