Wednesday, February 29, 2012

This Means War [2012]

MPAA (PG-13) CNS/USCCB (A-III) Roger Ebert (1 1/2 Stars) Fr. Dennis (2 Stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert's review -

This Means War (directed by McG, screenplay written by Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg, story by Timothy Dowling and Marcus Gautesan) that was released for Valentines Day is a rather typical rom-com that outside of the context of that holiday or perhaps a need sometime to see/rent something both conventional / romantic isn't exactly a "must see."  But it's not an awful movie either.  Just really, really "pop corn" light ...  

Indeed, as is typical of most contemporary Hollywood rom-coms (that don't "go dark"), This Means War is a story of three beautiful people along with a number of similarly beautiful friends and acquaintances who surround them.  So there's a definitely "Wouldn't it be nice...", "Much Ado About Nothing", "All's Well that Ends Well," daydream quality about the film that's been a staple of romantic comedies since at least the time of the "Bard of Statford upon Avon," that is William Shakespeare or since the "California bards" of the 1960s, the Beach Boys, were singing about cars, surfboards and "Two Girls for Every Boy ..."

Actually, the film is something of a play on this line from the Brian Wilson/Jan and Dean song "Surf City," where the boy to girl ratio is reversed in this film and one girl finds herself involved with two guys, who it turns out were actually friends.  Ah, the complexities of "young love ..."

So how do the protagonists in this story get into their predicament?  Lauren (played by Reese Witherspoon) a gorgeous if somewhat nerdy young woman moves across the country to be closer to her boyfriend, Jason (played by Clint Carlson), only to be dumped because apparently Jason didn't expect their LDR to last...  Grieving the loss of her relationship, spunky Lauren puts her energy into her job coordinating/interviewing "focus groups" trying-out various consumer gadgets that show-up on late night commercials.  It's not much of a job, but at least she gets to hit things, break thinks, whack things with a stick every so often ... and encourage others to do the same ;-).

Her married best friend, Trish (played by played by Chelsea Handler) becomes so concerned that Lauren just "get on with her life" that she creates an online profile for her on a dating service.  Initially, Lauren is aghast by the description that Trish wrote about her (Apparently Trish was somewhat bored with her own life and had been hoping to live a little, if vicariously, through her still single friend...). 'Turns out though, that among the replies that she gets is that of a good looking guy who works in a "travel agency" named Tuck (played by Tom Hardy).

Now Tuck's actually not "a travel agent" at all.  He works for the CIA with his much cooler, "far more at home in his job" partner and best friend FDR Foster (played by Chris Pine).  Indeed, that Tuck would pick his "cover story" to be that he's "a travel agent" is somewhat indicative of his own somewhat nerdy personality.  Even his ex-girl friend doesn't really believe he's a "travel agent" though she has no idea he's actually CIA either -- "You've got to be the most traveled 'travel agent' I've ever heard of."  But he can't tell her what he really does for a living ...

Anyway, the two, Lauren and Tuck, set-up a meet if not a date at some coffee shop.  Friend FDR decides to hang-out in a nearby video store during this meet to give Tuck an excuse to leave and someone to have a few beers with if things don't work out.  Things do work out, but ... after Lauren and Tuck split-off to go their separate ways, Lauren runs into FDR (and FDR doesn't know that Lauren was the girl that Tuck was meeting ...).  Much ensues ...

First with no guy (and pining still for her ex-guy) but now suddenly with two, Lauren the drop-dead gorgeous Hollywood fantasyland character that she is, does what Hollywood scriptwriters with drop-dead gorgeous fantasyland characters in their plots have them do: She decides that she's going to "break the tie" by "sleeping with both of them" and see which one she likes better.  I can't even think about that scenario without the Beach Boys song "Wouldn't it be nice ..." playing in my head ... And that's a pretty good indication that we're entering here into the "Great Land of  Beautiful People, no AIDS, no ..., no consequences ... with Unicorns floating about."  It makes for one heck of a day dream, but ... Ma (and Mother Church...) would be concerned ...

So there you have it.  All does end well for everyone (except perhaps for Jason, Lauren's ex, who perhaps discovers he shouldn't have dumped Lauren so casually ...). 

Again, This Means War, is not exactly Tolstoy, but understood to be "popcorn light" ... it's not exactly the Apocalypse either.  Just understand the film to be a "daydream" and perhaps remember that "nerdy people" can end-up being far more interesting than you think ...

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  1. Nice review Dennis. All of these leads try their hardest, but the script just lets them down too much with terrible jokes and very ugly feeling underneath this premise. I'm still surprised to actually see this getting all of the love that it's actually getting from critics but then again, I guess certain people don't mind these types of movies.

  2. Hi Dan, thanks for your comment! And I agree with your tactfully expressed point that the premise of the film is problematic. In my review I wrote that the premise had a _necessarily_ “day dream-like” quality to it (akin to the Beach Boys song “Wouldn’t it be nice, if ...”) because it necessarily presumes the possibility of engaging in sex without consequences, which is a fool’s errand / effectively impossible.

    The Church here is absolutely right. Sex is ordered toward exclusive love between two people and in its fullest expression to procreation (this being only possible if that expressed is between a man and a woman). Assuming anything else inevitably puts one at risk, at the absolute minimum, to be emotionally hurt, and at worst killed (and AIDS is not the only sexually transmitted disease that can kill. Hep-C can kill too. Herpes won’t kill you, but will complicate your future basically for the rest of your life. And these are just three of the most obvious “problems” that one can encounter by engaging in casual sex).

    The question then could be asked, if casual sex is so risky, should one dwell on such “day dreams” at all? A totally fair question and the Catholic Church does indeed talk about “avoiding the near occasions of sin.” And there’s wisdom to that.

    I’m just pretty sure that I don’t want to go to the point of banning the Beach Boys because after all the song that I’ve been referring to in reference to the various more edgy / problematic “rom-coms” like this one begins with the lyrics “Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older, and we wouldn’t have to wait so long ...” To some extent that’s the day dream of pretty much every teenager who’s ever experienced the first pangs of love. The adult response is “Yes, it would be nice but WELCOME COME TO THE REAL WORLD...” but completely repressing the dream also denies reality because “it would be nice” just basically impossible.

    The film here indulges in another common fantasy, “Wouldn’t it be nice to be in the position of having to choose between too very attractive partners.” Yes, it would be nice to be in that position, but probably most of us won’t. And almost certainly one or more of the people in such a triangle end up hurt.

    Add to this, that this film was marketed as arguably a Valentine’s Day movie, and yet I would doubt that the film would “work” as a Valentine’s Day movie nearly as well if it was about “a good looking if somewhat nerdy guy who finds himself suddenly pursued by two very attractive young women.” It’d be hard to imagine that there would a whole lot of women dragging their husbands/boyfriends to see a movie like that ;-). This movie “works” in good part because it’s the reverse of the conventional: In this movie it’s the attractive if somewhat nerdy young woman who’s choosing between two guys.

    Anyway, I’m trying to search for a way (1) that would recognize why these films are made, (2) why they necessarily have to be put in their proper place (that these films express basically “daydreams”) but also (3) after all the parental cautions are given that they not be banned outright because they do express to inner (if impossible) longings. Otherwise, do we really end up covering attractive women up from head to toe with tarps like the Taliban and banning even the Beach Boys? Clearly though it's a thin line to walk ...