The romantic-triangle comedy This Means War is glossy, occasionally engaging, but ultimately empty. Chris Pine and Tom Hardy, in competition for the most bee-stung lips, also compete for Reese Witherspoon’s affections. I wish the film had more scenes like the one in which Lauren and Tuck (Witherspoon and Hardy) meet for the first time on a blind date: their interaction feels genuine, with a charming sense of discovery between two people who are instantly attracted to each other and are delighted to find that they also like each other. Even Lauren and FDR’s (Pine) first meeting, though stagy and dated (scoping out girls at the video store – so 90s), is redeemed by a shout-out to The Lady Vanishes, an early Hitchcock gem.
Classic film-buff aside: I would argue with Lauren’s assessment of The Lady Vanishes as second-tier Hitchcock; it may be lesser-known, but it’s not a lesser film. It’s not as rich and complex as Notorious, but then, very few films are. To me, The Lady Vanishes feels distinctly British, more whimsical than studio-era Hollywood masterpieces like Rebecca and Notorious. Now, Saboteur – that’s second-tier Hitchcock, if you ask me.
Okay, back to the lesser film at hand: any possibility for genuine interaction and emotional connection devolves into gimmicky one-upmanship between Tuck and FDR. It’s too bad, because Witherspoon and Hardy especially show hints of how well they might have played off each other with a more interesting script. After the obligatory action shenanigans, which squander Til Schweiger’s charisma and talent, the film settles for the equally obligatory, normative heterosexual pairing, with Lauren choosing one suitor over the other. It’s interesting to note that this film, for all its frank sexual language and make-out sessions, is actually much more conventional than a similarly-themed 1933 film, Design for Living, in which Miriam Hopkins, unable to choose between Fredric March and Gary Cooper, decides on a ménage á trois.