OK, who knew Tom Hardy, the new Batman villain and Warrior warrior, could be so funny? Reese Witherspoon? Sure. Chris Pine? No surprise there. But Hardy?
In This Means War, Hardy and Pine play CIA pals who always get their man. And they play guys who call on all their spycraft — and a lot of national security infrastructure — in competing to woo the same winsome blonde, Lauren, played by Witherspoon.
Dating a spy, as we learned in last week's Safe House, is a tricky proposition. He or she is going to lie. Or at least be a little disingenuous.
"Have you ever killed anybody with your bare hands?"
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"Not this week."
Hardy plays Tuck, the shy dad who has split from his little boy's mother, vulnerable enough to be attractive to online date Lauren, who works as a product tester at a marketing company.
And Pine is FDR, a rich playboy spy always ready with a line: "I know movies. And women."
That pick-up is as out of date as the video store where he tries it out.
Lauren goes from alone and lying about it to juggling two guys in a heartbeat. Who might be Mr. Long-Term?
But because these guys are spies, naturally they find out. And as Bugs Bunny used to put it, "Of course you know: This means war."
So they set up rules, a "gentleman's agreement:" "Don't tell her" that they know and "stay out of each other's way" are among those rules. So is "No hanky-panky."
This action-packed romantic comedy was directed by Charlie's Angels vet McG, who handles the shifts in tone with the requisite skill. One minute, they're shooting it out with the villain (Til Schweiger) and his henchmen, the next they're employing every gadget and invasion of privacy known to the CIA in their battle to woo the girl and keep the other guy from getting her. The generally nameless assistants aren't necessarily in on why they're using wiretaps and spy satellites to keep tabs on this woman.
The guys play more fully fleshed-out characters, and Hardy in particular seems to relish showing off a softer, sillier side.
Witherspoon's character is on shakier ground. Let's see, she's single and insecure about it — but confident and mercenary enough to play these two in ways any frat boy would appreciate. And no matter what she has done, she gets to play the victim.
This Means War seems packaged and market-researched and factory sealed for our protection, from the comical way the boys treat an impending torture scene all the way down to giving comic Chelsea Handler, as Lauren's confidante, a purse packed with zingers.
But it's a brisk sprint over familiar ground, with just enough appeal to action addicts and romantic-comedy lovers to amuse fans of both genres.