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Little is fair in 'This Means War'

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Well-intentioned action-comedy falls short
One of the unfortunate aspects of today's Hollywood is the obsessive need to produce work that appeals to the broadest possible audience. When you try to appeal to everyone, however, you wind up diluting the product. You wind up with a film that still has the stink of excessive focus grouping all over it. It's just too bad when it happens to a movie that should have been better - a movie like 'This Means War.'

It's the latest offering from director McG ('Terminator Salvation') and on paper, it looks like it could strike the ideal balance between rom-com and shoot-em-up.

On paper.

It's the story of Tuck (Tom Hardy, 'Warrior') and FDR (Chris Pine, 'Unstoppable') - hip, irreverent CIA agents, partners and best friends. Tuck is the more thoughtful of the two, while FDR is the extrovert. They're a great team both on and off the field, though an arms dealer named Heinrich (Til Schweiger, 'The Three Musketeers') is proving to be a particular thorn in their respective sides.

However, everything is really put on the line when the two men meet (separately) Lauren Scott (Reese Witherspoon, 'Water for Elephants'). The two men each find themselves falling in love. Of course, when the two of them realize that they're both pursuing the same woman, they figure out a reasonable and adult way to deal with it that doesn't impact their own relationship.

Just kidding! They immediately turn the proceedings into a contest. There are rules initially, but they quickly fall by the wayside and each man brings the full extent of his CIA pull to the fray. These once-close friends become sniping, in-fighting adversaries - while Lauren is none the wiser. However, when Heinrich shows up looking for vengeance, things get even more complicated.

I actually quite like the idea of this movie; it seems like it started out as an honest effort to combine the best aspects of romantic comedies and action flicks. However, by the time the studios were done with it, there were so many layers of inoffensive gloss that the original idea is barely a blur.

These are three very good actors, and yet nothing. None of them has any redeeming qualities, which is kind of stunning to me - how do you make charming guys like Hardy and Pine unlikeable and completely de-cute Reese Witherspoon? Frankly, I found it difficult to care about any of them (especially since I had the entire plot sussed out and broken down within the first 10 minutes). I didn't care who got the girl, I didn't care if they caught the bad guy - I just didn't give a crap.

Make no mistake - this is a well-crafted movie. These people are all pros, and they comport themselves accordingly. There are some sweet moments, some funny moments and some kick-ass moments, but at the end of the day, that's all they are. Moments that are surrounded by clunky edits and a lukewarm script and a clear agenda aimed at inoffensiveness.

It's not enough. 'This Means War' isn't terrible - there's plenty to recommend it, especially as a date movie - but it is a bit disappointing. It just felt like this one had the potential to be something special, rather than becoming somewhat less than the sum of its parts.

2.5 out of 5

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