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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Netflix Recommends... This Means War (2012)

* *

Director: McG
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Tom Hardy, Chris Pine

Recommended to me based on my having watched Warrior, which also starred Tom Hardy so at least there's some scrap of reasoning behind it. Because I remembered how poorly This Means War was received when it was released in 2012, my expectations for this movie were extremely low but, much to my surprise, I actually sort of enjoyed it. It's not a good movie by any means - it's ridiculous, all over the place, and parts of it are extremely problematic (more on that later), but it's also weirdly fascinating with respect to its not at all subtle gay subtext. Seriously, This Means War is rivaled only by Top Gun in the "they have to be doing this on purpose" department. It's amazing, and it's pretty much the only reason to see this one, unless you're just curious to see Tom Hardy in his least "Tom Hardy-like" role.

This Means War centers on CIA operatives, and best friends, FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Hardy), who get themselves grounded to desk work after a job in Hong Kong goes terribly awry and gets them on the hit list of Karl Heinrich (Til Schweiger) after his brother is killed during the operation. Locked into desk duty and forced to stay in one place for an extended period of time, Tuck makes an attempt to get back with his ex-wife (Abigail Spencer) so that they and their son can be a family unit again, but after being gently rebuffed he realizes that he needs to get back out into the dating pool so that he can move on. Much to FDR's amusement, Tuck joins an online dating service, but FDR worries about Tuck's ability to handle himself and insists on hanging out nearby so that he can act as backup in case things get out of hand on the date. As soon as Tuck meets Lauren (Reese Witherspoon), however, he texts FDR and tells him no assistance will be needed, leaving FDR to spend the remainder of his evening trolling the video store (in addition to its other issues, This Means War is apparently a period piece) looking to pick someone up. Lo and behold, who should be passing through after her drinks date with Tuck? Although Lauren shoots him down when he tries to pick her up, FDR is intrigued enough by her to track her down and manages to talk her into going on a date with him.

Lauren, who is still smarting over having packed up her life and moved Los Angeles for a boyfriend who then cheated on her, is uncertain about the prospect of dating two men at once but is convinced by her friend Trish (Chelsea Handler) to play the field a little bit and have some fun. Lauren decides to go for it and enjoys it, at first, but quickly finds herself falling for both FDR and Tuck and agonizing over how to make a decision between them. Meanwhile, Tuck and FDR quickly figure out that they're dating the same woman and decide that, rather than come clean with her, they'll make the situation as complicated and emotionally fraught as possible by secretly competing with each other for her affections and manipulating her in various ways in order to emerge as the "winner." The strategies that they employ to get an edge include breaking into Lauren's home and going through her things, installing surveillance equipment in the home so that they can watch her (and the other guy, when he's with her) at home, sabotaging each other's dates, adopting a rescue dog to convince her that he's ready to settle down and care for others (FDR), and hiring a bunch of actors to pretend to be his family to convince her that he has roots (Tuck). Inevitably the situation tears apart Tuck and FDR's friendship, but fortunately Karl Heinrich arrives in town just in time to give them a reason to band together once again.

This Means War is a difficult movie to categorize because it's built on a mixture of genres and isn't particularly successful within the confines of any of them. As an action movie it doesn't have much to offer because its action pieces are few and far between (it begins with a short action sequence and ends with a long action sequence, but there's not much to speak of besides); as a comedy it offers little more than a few stray laughs and, like the action scenes, they tend to be few and far between; and as a romance This Means War is doomed to fail because its plot hinges on its two leads behaving in a way that, in real life, would result in Lauren getting restraining orders against both of them. These two guys install secret cameras in her house so that they can film her without her knowledge or consent. They then watch her in her most private moments, including moments when she's getting physically intimate with the other one, while sitting in a room surrounded by the CIA colleagues that they've chosen to be on their "team." That. Is. Gross. It's gross. It's not romantic and if the film was actually taking Lauren seriously as a person and a character, and if we were actually meant to root for her and her happiness in any way, then I would suggest that the only truly satisfactory ending to a story like this would be for her to find out exactly what they did (she of course finds out that the two knew each other all along, but not the lengths they went to in order to gain her favor) and then shoot each of them in the crotch. It would only be fair.

But Lauren doesn't really matter because the real romance in This Means War is actually between FDR and Tuck, and the presence of Lauren (and by extension Witherspoon) is only a means of dissipating the homosexual tension because the world just isn't ready for an action/comedy/romance where Chris Pine and Tom Hardy end up together. If you don't believe me about the subtext, consider the following evidence:
* Although it differentiates them by making one the "sensitive" one and the other the "womanizer," the film still goes out of its way to assure the audience that both are most certainly manly men's men, simply of a different stripe. For example, FDR is the sort of man's man who lives in a spartan apartment with a skylight that looks up into a glass-bottom pool frequented solely by women (who are these women and why are they on his roof? We don't know), while Tuck is the sort of man's man who lives in a dark loft space where he keeps two motorcycles parked in the living room and kickboxes with a trainer on the other side of the room. The set decoration doth protest too much.

* They refer to themselves as "partners" (which is technically true since they work together as field agents, but given the rest of the subtext in the movie, that starts to feel rather convenient as the film carries on).

* They watch each other get intimate with Lauren via the hidden cameras they've installed in her house. FDR also spends an entire evening calling Tuck's phone while Tuck is out with Lauren and leaving increasingly clingy voicemail messages trying to get Tuck to come over and hang out with him. These two are so much more into each other than they are ever into Lauren. Oh, and also, during one of the surveillance periods FDR defensively points out to Tuck that Tuck has seen FDR's penis and is aware of its proportions.

* They use their access to resources and information in order to help themselves "play the part" of the perfect guy for Lauren. They are, in other words, pretending to be heterosexual suitors.

* Late in the film Tuck introduces Lauren to his son and, rather than refer to her as his date, he calls her his "friend." His son then replies that he thought FDR was Tuck's "only friend." This kid knows who the OTP is.

* Early in the film Tuck tags along to a gathering with FDR's family at which FDR's grandmother asks them when they're going to give her great grandchildren. Note, the question is not "when are you," referring to FDR, her actual biological grandson, but "when are you two," referring to the two men, going to give her great grandchildren. Grandma knows what's up.

* Finally (and this one is my favorite), after FDR and Tuck's big "break up" scene, FDR has a brief scene with one of his team members whose name is Dickerson and says, despondently and while looking at footage of Tuck, "All right, Dick, I'll see ya when I see ya."

Seriously, This Means War should have just let them kiss. It would have been a much better movie for it.


Dell said...

Wow. Can't believe I didn't pick up on any of this when I watched it. That's probably because I was bored to tears and kept busy wishing it would end. Great review.

Norma Desmond said...

I'd recommend watching it again with the subtext in mind - it will probably be a lot more entertaining!