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LAURIE COKER'S REVIEW
RATING: C+

Hollywood loves the themes of love and romance around key holidays and this Valentine’s Day is no exception. Only the main offering, ‘This Means War,’ falters under the weight of what I am assuming is an effort to hit both male and female audience members equally. Working on the premise of action and espionage for the guys and romance for the gals, director McG and screenwriters Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg fail to deliver enough of either. While I loved the cast, I found the story transparent and trite to a point nearing annoyance.

Best buddies and CIA partners, Tuck (Tom Hardy) and FDR (Chris Prine), live the life of James Bond, both talented spies, but different when it comes to love. Tuck, a divorced dad, wants a relationship and family, while FDR prefers the life of ladies man. Until, that is, they meet, Lauren, a pretty product tester, who steals both their hearts. Tuck joins an online dating service, where Lauren’s crazy best friend (Chelsea Handler) has posted a profile for her, and FDR just happens to meet her at a video store, just after her first date with Tuck. At first, neither knows of the other’s attraction to the same girl, but soon it is all out war – and they have a plethora of spy tools at their disposal with which to compete for her affections and to curtail each other’s advances.

The premise has all the right elements for the genre, and there is notable chemistry between the leads, but predictability gets in the way, as does limited scope in the story. Adding a bit of a twist and the action part of the tale, Tuck and FDR are put on desk duty after a covert operation leaves international arms dealer Heinrich (Til Schweiger) seeking vengeance at any cost. So we have a threesome (of the competition sort) and a bad guy seeking vengeance against the suitors for the death of his brother, only this subplot hardly gets any screen time, and is, instead, a poorly fleshed out sidebar, affording Schweiger very little time to show his sinister side and fizzling out with little fanfare. In fairness, there are a few high-powered action sequences and a ridiculous, but quite fun final scene involving a wild chase and gunfire and offering Lauren a chance to save the day with her mad consumer product testing skills, showing up her spy suitors.

Witherspoon, looking absolutely radiant and svelte, is literally sparkling and delightfully perfect for the part of the lovelorn Lauren. Equally pretty Pine brings the same arrogance and good nature that he demonstrates in his other characters and hugely likable, Hardy offers what should prove to be his breakout role as a leading man – that is if his character gets noticed and the movie stays in theatres long enough. Overall their collective talents are wasted on these adorable, but wholly shallow characters. Handler, as Lauren’s best pal, Trish, plays a hilarious married mother, whose life is made fuller living vicariously through her friend. Much like her character on her new television show, ‘Are you there, Chelsea?’ Handler provides some lowbrow crass humor, but I like it. Angela Bassett, looking completely uncomfortable and out of place, has a bit part, making a couple of brief appearances as their unforgiving boss and I found it pretty sad – any character actor could play this inconsequential part and probably with more interest than did Bassett.

Ultimately, McG misses hitting the mark on either storyline here. He infuses his wilder than necessary action sequences poorly with the heart (and it is an ailing heart) of the romance. A two by four to the head has more subtly than does the final resolution to ‘The Means War.’ I will give its writers some credit for the Shakespearean-like rendering of masquerading, mistaken identities and silly twist in the path to love. While they cannot claim originality, they can claim a touch of fun.

I did not dislike ‘This Means War,’ rated PG-13, but I can’t recommend it for full fare. Some young couples will find it a decent diversion on date night and that’s fine. I truly enjoyed the cast and its campy chemistry. I am placing a C+ in my grade book. It isn’t all bad!


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ELIZABETH LOPEZ' REVIEW
RATING: B+

The action comedy with a huge dose of romance, ‘This Means War,’ appears to be part bromance, part romance. Judging from the parking lots at many theaters the weekend before the festivities of the 14th, many people may have been in attendance for a romantic drama that opened on the 10th. While many will still classify all romance films as “chick flicks” and think they will have to suffer through it for their partner’s sake, I think many viewers will be pleasantly surprised when the film’s main characters have a story with romance and includes a life full of action at work between best buds. As great friends as they are, the friendship hits a barrier when a woman becomes part of their lives. Resolving this dilemma proves to be quite another story, despite their gentlemen’s agreement.

McG (Terminator Salvation and We Are Marshall) directs the screenplay by Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg based on Dowling and Marcus Gautesen’s story.

CIA operatives FDR Foster (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy) share many assignments on the job and know plenty about each other’s personal life as best friends. FDR is quite the single man, while Tuck is no longer living with his wife Katie (Abigail Leigh Spencer) and son Joe (John Paul Ruttan), whom he sees periodically. Talking to others about their life as agents is not something they do, but FDR cheers Tuck on to see a new mate. Tuck’s family thinks he is a travel agent, when in fact, he and FDR return from abroad where they meet with the likes of a mobster named Heinrich (Til Schweiger).

Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) has a great career, but no current beau. Her good friend Trish (Chelsea Handler) is married, but wholeheartedly encourages Lauren to move on after her prior relationship. Trish goes as far as posting details on the web dating services to find potential dates—without Lauren’s knowledge. Many of the comedic scenes between Witherspoon and Handler are very funny, surprisingly, as I was anticipating the writing to be quite predictable as many romantic comedies often are.

The inseparable partners and best friends, FDR and Tuck, try to avoid damaging their relationship once they discover they unexpectedly have fallen for the same woman. If only their boss on the job, Collins (Angela Bassett) really knew what they are up to with the agency resources when they try to keep tabs on each other while on their respective dates. For FDR, the competition becomes much more serious after he takes the new pretty lady to meet the grandparents, Nana (Rosemary Harris) and Grandpa Foster (George Touliatos).

All the cast members deliver great performances and allow for a great escape, especially when in need of a good laugh. It is great to see Tom Hardy as such a different character from the one he portrays in ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ released last December. I look forward to seeing the next character he brings to the big screen. Witherspoon is well known for her varied romance films, while I like the dramas, she is also good in the comedic roles and I found her character entertaining.

If you don’t turn your nose at this PG-13 film, you might find yourself pleasantly surprised after 96 minutes with the gal and guy pals in the script. There are steamy scenes tastefully done. While Witherspoon has the body to show off, she gets the point across without baring it all. Well done!


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MARK SALDANA'S REVIEW
RATING: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)

If the dinner and movie date is in the near future, the cinema has only a couple of romantic options available. THE VOW just opened in theaters on Friday, and while it’s not a total piece of garbage, most men probably would prefer to avoid it. In fact, the guys would probably prefer to catch the action packed thrill ride that is SAFE HOUSE, but with no romantic content in the movie whatsoever, most ladies will prefer to see it on another night or would rather skip it altogether. Perhaps another lovely compromise should be in order. Opening on February 17, THIS MEANS WAR has a little something for everyone in a romantic comedy, which boasts fun action and sometimes hilarious dating humor.

Chris Pine and Tom Hardy portray FDR and Tuck, two CIA operatives who find themselves in an awkward dilemma. As close as brothers, the two agents end up dating and falling for the same woman, Lauren (Reese Witherspoon). Lauren, who finds qualities in both men lovable, has trouble deciding whom to choose. Tuck, a divorcee father feels a certain emptiness in his life wanting a girlfriend and eventual wife with whom to share his life. FDR, a smooth ladies man, feels no need for a relationship as he has much fun carousing with multiple women. Tuck decides to place an internet personal ad on a dating site where he discovers Lauren’s ad as placed by her crazy best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler). Lauren and Tuck meet and hit it off quite well, while FDR backs up his buddy, waiting on standby at a nearby video store, in case he needs assistance. After the meeting, Lauren just happens to arrive at the same video store where she meets FDR, who becomes instantly smitten with her. Things get comically complicated as the operatives’ friendship and work relationship are put to the test when they discover the situation and agree to let Lauren make the decision. Using almost every spy resource available and their skills, Tuck and FDR try to sabotage each other’s relationship with Lauren.

While this film probably doesn’t deserve a full priced ticket recommendation, I will reluctantly recommend it as an option on a date night. I found myself enjoying the comedy and the great chemistry among the three lead actors. The action can be limited, but there is enough in the film for the guys to enjoy. In keeping with the comedic tone of the movie, these scenes can be a bit over-the-top, but still fun nevertheless. I can’t think of a better one word description for this picture. Fun really sums it up. Not all of the jokes hit, but enough work to keep the experience amusing and entertaining. The story and script by Timothy Dowling, Marcus Gautesen and Simon Kinberg doesn’t really offer much new in terms of the love triangle/romantic comedy plot. Still, the strengths of the film lie in the humor, the descent direction by McG, and the talented cast.

Tom Hardy, Chris Pine, and Reece Witherspoon all work wonderfully together. Reece shares excellent chemistry with both of her leading men and Pine and Hardy credibly portray best friends. Chelsea Handler is perfectly cast as the no-nonsense crazy best friend to Lauren. Angela Bassett has a bit part as Tuck and FDR’s chief, Collins, but her character barely exists in the film and lacks dimension. Collins is written as the usual cliché angry chief scolding her agents for causing problems for the department. While I like Bassett, any character actor could have played this part. Til Schweiger, who has the role of the villain Heinrich, does fine work here; however, has such a small role in the film that his villainy lacks gravity to be taken too seriously.

That’s pretty much the overall feel of the movie. It is great fun, but not meant to be taken very seriously. If not in the mood for a sentimental romance film (THE VOW) and are looking for a date movie with comedic elements, some romance, and action, this may be the film to watch. Otherwise, I recommend catching this at an afternoon discount rate or waiting for a rental.


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