This Means War (2012) 

This Means War (2012) 

Crimes:

  • Wasting the seemingly can’t-miss trio of Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, and Reese Witherspoon in a noisy, silly romantic comedy that has the two men playing super-spies who have a calamitous falling out while trying to win Witherspoon’s heart 
  • Making everything over the top, from the “dates”—which involve grand romantic gestures beyond even a millionaire’s dreams—to the explosive spy hijinks
  • Overusing Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage,” which plays every time Pine or Hardy tries to trip the other up during their encounters with Witherspoon
  • Misjudging how hard it will be for the audience to root for either Hardy or Pine when both men are wasting their talents and the resources of the United States government to snoop out the tastes and habits of their crush-object

Defender: Director McG

Tone of commentary: Motormouthed, wonky, and nitpicky. McG is constantly citing the ideas he lifted from other films, from Martin Scorsese classics to Borat. (During a shot of a little boy spinning around with a bucket on his head, McG notes, “That’s a beat I ripped off from Parenthood. Ron Howard.”) He also constantly throws in technical terms—some legit, some just buzzy—to explain what he was going for with This Means War, which sometimes leads to near-impenetrable comments like, “That’s a pick-up to pay off that trust-runner which ultimately didn’t land the way we wanted it to land.” 

Mostly though, McG questions. He questions his visual-effects choices (“the focus is too soft here,” or “we may have gone too far with the blue-eye pop”); he questions the paths he didn’t get to take (as when he suggests one scene was meant to look more like a Radiohead video, “but the light was uncharitable” to Witherspoon’s skin); and he questions the prop and costume decisions that were apparently beyond his control (like the way Pine’s TV is turned to American football and not soccer like McG wanted, or the way one character still has an answering machine when McG is sure everyone uses voicemail now). In short, when McG happily observes, “We cleaned up Pine’s hair so he no longer has that little Bell Biv DeVoe lip in the back of his head,” it’s pretty obvious that it took days of on-set complaining before the director won that particular battle.

What went wrong: McG is extremely open about the tussles he had with his cast over whether they looked cool enough from scene to scene; and he admits Pine and Hardy may have been misled into thinking they were going to be in more of an action movie than a comedy, given how much time each actor spent studying how to hold weapons properly and how real soldiers deal with post-traumatic stress. More than anything, though, McG seems genuinely pissed that this PG-13 movie wasn’t smuttier. There’s a sweet scene with Pine’s grandmother (Rosemary Harris) that McG feels is “not edgy enough” and “could’ve been more racy,” with the grandma swearing more. Throughout the film, Chelsea Handler pops up as Witherspoon’s sex-obsessed best friend, and McG had to either cut back or fight for the comedian’s jokes about camel-toe and penetration, which he says “speaks to the prudish nature of the United States at this time.” That prudish nature doesn’t prevent McG from getting as raunchy as he likes on the commentary track, though. For example, during a scene where Pine uses thermal imaging to spy on Hardy and Witherspoon hugging, McG gleefully calls attention to “the heat-signature in the groin area, as to suggest an erection, and the blossoming of the labia majora.”

Comments on the cast: Ever-critical, McG scolds his stars and himself a few times, both for jokes that fall flat and because he was “never perfectly satisfied with the level of action” in some scenes, especially given that he had experienced action studs Pine and Hardy at his disposal. Nonetheless, he stands up for Handler over and over, saying nobody but him really “got” her jokes, and that to him, her ad-libs about penis size and such “embodies Chelsea Handler and the way she editorializes the human condition.” As for Oscar-winner Witherspoon, McG mostly just slobbers all over her legs, calling them “cute,” and adding, “Hard to believe she’s given birth to two children.” Later, he urges the viewer to notice “how Reese has the wherewithal to put her leg over [Pine], to show off the shapeliness of her thigh and the roundness of her butt.” If nothing else, McG is proud of himself for showing a side of Witherspoon not seen onscreen enough, in his opinion. “She’s super-foxy, and I wanted her to own that.”

Inevitable dash of pretension: Right from the start, when McG says he loves the 20th Century Fox overture because it “just makes you feel like you’re livin’ your dream,” he’s in full hyperbole mode, overselling the trials and rewards of moviemaking. McG refers to every fight he had with the studio as “controversial,” and describes one particular tough creative decision as “one of those Sophie’s Choice moments where something has to give.” And as with McG’s indignation over the pushback he received on Handler’s sex jokes, he’s often convinced that This Means War was just too hip for the room. When an African-American man in Witherspoon’s office looks at her online dating profile and says, “I’m down, girl,” McG congratulates himself, saying, “I liked ‘I’m down, girl,’ even though garden-variety white America never understood that.”

Commentary in a nutshell: While admiring a luminescent shot of Hardy and Witherspoon at an outdoor cafe, McG suddenly sighs, “When I make the skin tone really gold like that, sometimes it takes the teeth to a place of not being as white as I’d like them to be.”