Like some chilling Orwellian vision—or a three-episode marathon of MTV’s Next—This Means War sets a frothy romantic comedy in a surveillance state, following two CIA operatives who use the agency’s full resources to score the same woman. It’s a victory for the PATRIOT Act that such a movie could ever exist, banking as it does on the assumption that we’re perfectly fine with forfeiting our right to privacy, so long as the guys invading that privacy are hot. Given the creepiest rom-com premise this side of Addicted To Love—which at least had the wisdom to reflect on its camera-obscura voyeurism—director McG tries to turn This Means War into a cool pop confection along the lines of his Charlie’s Angels movies. But pouring on the douchey hipness and charm only makes things worse.
Forced to squander their considerable charisma, Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, and Reese Witherspoon play three corners of a romantic triangle, all hard-working professionals who have trouble meeting people on the side. When Hardy meets Witherspoon, a go-getting product-tester, on an online dating site, he allows his CIA partner Pine to hang out at a nearby video store during their first date. Of course, Witherspoon and Pine just happen to meet up independently of Hardy, and they hit it off, leading Witherspoon into the dilemma of dating two guys at once, and leaving Pine and Hardy competing for the same woman. In an effort to get information about Witherspoon’s likes and dislikes—and to monitor each other’s progress in rounding the proverbial bases—the guys install various bugs, hidden cameras, and tracking devices as if she were in a terrorist sleeper cell.
There’s a lot of intelligence-gathering in This Means War, which usually involves Pine or Hardy and a group of other men clustering around a monitor while Witherspoon frets and Chelsea Handler, as her married confidant, turns her every worry into a smutty one-liner. Scenes of the guys applying the things they’ve learned about Witherspoon on their dates—taking her to see Gustav Klimt paintings or adopting a dog—smack of Bill Murray wooing Andie MacDowell in Groundhog Day. But the crucial difference is that Murray had no choice but to relive the same day over and over again; Pine and Hardy have the choice not to be invasive creeps. They, and the movie, just don’t see the problem with it.
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