When I first picked up "This Means War" I thought that I would be in for a real treat. It looked to be a film that perfectly balanced comedy, romance, and action. Think of a film like "Romancing the Stone" or "The Jewel of the Nile." That's the kind of film I expected to find. Unfortunately, "This Means War" doesn't succeed as a film in any of the aforementioned genres and it allows that actors involved to create some of their most cringe worthy characters to date.
The plot of "This Means War" sounds like a lot of fun. Two CIA agents happen to fall for the same woman. When they learn about the other's interests, they wage war against one another in an attempt to ultimately win over the girl. Unfortunately for viewers, the biggest problem with "This Means War" is that it executes this potentially entertaining premise in the most disappointing fashion. The situations created are not believable, and what makes matters worse is that the viewer cannot picture the characters in the film behaving in the way that they do. The action sequences in the film seem to be misplaced and the characters respond to each of them in the most unconventional way possible.
What's disappointing about all of this is that all of the actors involved have proven themselves to be talented actors. Reese Witherspoon, who was great in films like "Legally Blonde" and "Walk the Line," is completely wasted here. She plays Lauren, the woman of the two spy's affections, as a completely clueless individual. Not to mention she seems to see Lauren as a desperate individual. Judging from Lauren's career at the opening of the film, we are supposed to think of Lauren as a self-sufficient woman, but later in the film we watch her become somebody else entirely as she tries to find which man is right for her. This betrayal of character makes us less attracted to the character, and therefore less invested in the overall film.
In the male leads, Chris Pine and Tom Hardy are cast as the two CIA agents vying for Lauren's attention. Of the two, Hardy gives the best performance. I say this because Pine creates a character that does and says things that seem completely out of place. We are introduced to each spy early on in the film, and right away we get a sense of who each one is. As the film progresses, Hardy's character remains largely the same person, but Pine's character develops in a way that contradicts his normal actions. I get that there is character growth within any film, but that growth needs to be believable. At few times in the film did I regard Pine's character's actions as genuine and because of this his character became less credible. To a small degree, the same can be said of Hardy's character. In one particular paintball scene we find ourselves asking how the character got into the situation presented.
Most of the problems mentioned can be attributed to one individual: the director. The actors creating laughable performances is one thing, but a director that allows those performances to make it into the final film is as much to blame. When you find out that the director of the film was McG, it all begins to make sense. McG was the man behind both "Charlie's Angels" movies. Both of those films also lacked any sort of character development, and the execution of key scenes was a complete let down. With "This Means War," McG doesn't seem to know when to make the audience laugh and when to make them take the characters seriously. That balance of genres that I spoke of earlier...well lets just say that there is no balance.
Still, most films are given at least one element that makes it watchable. For "This Means War" the performance by Chelsea Handler is exactly that. Handler creates a character that can be both funny and serious. When she is onscreen, the film is at its very best.