Director McG did his best work on his two Charlie’s Angels movies, essentially incomprehensible action spectacles with a glossy, candy-coated sense of fun, exuberant performances and clever set pieces. This Means War looks like it might return McG to that kind of superficial, silly entertainment, but it’s far too unpleasant and ugly to live up to even the weakest moments of the Angels movies.
Co-written by Mr. and Mrs. Smith screenwriter Simon Kinberg, War attempts to offer a similar mix of romantic banter and secret-agent intrigue, with best buddies and CIA partners FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy) competing for the affections of the same woman, Lauren (Reese Witherspoon), who’s unaware of the pair’s status both as friends and as spies. While Smith reveled in the dark comedy of its main characters’ nastiness, and boasted serious chemistry between Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, War tries too hard to make its dueling spy-bros into well-intentioned nice guys, even as they marshal all their high-tech resources to sabotage each other’s romantic efforts.
The peppy, pretty Lauren is tossed back and forth like a piece of limited-edition gadgetry, the coveted prize in the competition between two douchebags. Witherspoon doesn’t have chemistry with either of her leading men, and Lauren’s final choice is basically arbitrary. The infrequent action scenes are unimpressive, and the obnoxious Chelsea Handler (who should never be allowed to act) ruins every scene she’s in as Lauren’s best friend. Only Lauren’s office, a marvel of impractical production design, recalls the goofy creativity of McG’s greatest strengths. Maybe he ought to look into Charlie’s Angels 3.