Having great-looking stars who have the added bonus of actually being able to act makes the noisy romp "This Means War" more tolerable that it ought to be.
It's essentially a love-triangle version of "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," rendered even more bombastic in the hands of "Charlie's Angels" director McG. (Simon Kinberg, who wrote the 2005 film that spawned Brangelina, shares script credit here with Timothy Dowling.) So you've got your sport utility vehicles tumbling in slow motion, your gravity-defying shootouts and your obligatory explosions galore.
Naturally, the premise is the most high-concept, contrived confection: Two CIA agents (Chris Pine and Tom Hardy) who happen to be best friends also happen to fall in love with the same woman (Reese Witherspoon), who has no idea these guys know each other. They promise their shared pursuit won't ruin their friendship, but good luck with all that.
Screwball and high-tech, "This Means War" aims to provide laughs and thrills at the same time, and only intermittently achieves its goals. Still, the sight of Pine and Hardy one-upping each other for Witherspoon's affections through ridiculously elaborate dates and outright stalking (with the help of government resources) has its amusing moments. It also sets up the singular great shot in the entire film, in which the two suitors skulk around her apartment, trying to avoid her (and each other) as they hide their surveillance equipment and hunt for intel on her likes and dislikes.
Witherspoon stars as the plucky Lauren Scott, a top product tester for a consumer magazine. Still reeling from a breakup, she reluctantly finds herself in the online dating scene. There she finds Hardy's character, the sweet and sensitive Tuck, who claims he's a travel agent. He's still hurting from a breakup with his wife, with whom he has a young son.
Lauren and Tuck's first date couldn't go better, but on the way home she stops by a freakishly well-stocked video store (one of the more outrageous fantasy elements in "This Means War") where — wouldn't you know it? — she meets and trades snappy banter with Pine's character, a womanizer who goes by the initials FDR. Instantly smitten by this smart, fetching creature, FDR goads her into going on a date with him, which ends up going surprisingly well, too.
From there, the film works itself up into a frenzy of back-and-forth sabotage — to the tune of the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage," which provides some energy and is good for a laugh at first but ultimately reinforces the music-video aesthetic. McG reliably keeps the action humming at a nearly nonstop pace, though. All in all, it's a sufficient and not entirely insufferable distraction.
Meanwhile, Chelsea Handler pops in from time to time as Lauren's wisecracking, married best friend living vicariously through her dating adventures. Merely the idea that these two women would have a conversation with each other is even more implausible than the film's outsized stunts, and Handler is coasting on her brash, boozy TV persona, but a couple of her zingers do hit their targets.
"This Means War," a 20th Century Fox release, is rated PG-13 for sexual content including references, some violence and action, and for language. Running time: 97 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:
G — General audiences. All ages admitted.
PG — Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
PG-13 — Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.
R — Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
NC-17 — No one under 17 admitted.