‘This Means War': Spy vs. Spy Love Triangle Makes Peace With Its Frothiness

Reese Witherspoon/Tom Hardy/Chris Pine action-romance is totally frothy — and that’s a good thing

 

In the dictionary, “frothy” is defined as being “light and entertaining but of little substance.”

This Means War” is a totally frothy film. And that’s a good thing, at least here. (Sometimes  substance is overrated. As Samuel Goldwyn once famously said, “If you want to send a message, go to Western Union.”)

This stylish and fun romantic action comedy is about two best buddies whose friendship is tested when they discover that they are dating the same woman. 

FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy) are top agents at the CIA, where they work together out of the Los Angeles office — who knew? — catching bad guys round the world. When they realize that they’re both courting Lauren (Reese Witherspoon), a consumer products expert, each man begins to conduct high-tech surveillance on the other’s romantic progress, installing listening bugs, hidden cameras and the like.

“War” is the adult version of Mad magazine’s venerable Spy vs. Spy feature. As each man becomes more serious about Lauren, his tactics and enmity toward the other escalates. Their friendship is threatened, as is their focus on finding the movie’s villain (Til Schweiger), in a seemingly throwaway plot thread.

As buoyantly directed by McG (“Terminator Salvation”), all of this plays out with the requisite swagger and sass. The cast is attractive and appealing, the dialogue fast and often funny, and it all moves at rapid enough speed that a viewer doesn’t have time to be bothered by the film’s lack of character development or believability.

Witherspoon seems of late to be making a practice of starring in films where she is betwixt and between two men (2010’s lethargic “How Do You Know” and last year’s “Water for Elephants”). She gives a likable performance here, always impressing as just a little smarter and more competent than either of her swains.

Pine, whose intense blue eyes in this movie register as almost otherworldly, displays a brash charm; he’s like an enthusiastic puppy eager to nuzzle with Witherspoon. Hardy, whose own charm is more roughhewn, doesn’t seem quite as at ease just skating on the surface as his costars.

Turning up in supporting roles are comic and talk-show host Chelsea Handler as Lauren’s potty-mouthed best friend and Angela Bassett as the CIA agents’ boss. The former turns in her usual choleric shtick on sex and men while the talented latter is given way too little to do.

“War” is the kind of glossy, light-hearted fare that studios used to know how to turn out regularly but seem, of late, to have lost the knack for making. It’s mostly a kick to watch, means nothing, and is designed only to entertain. Victory achieved.