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March 11, 2012 / Siobhan Argent

This Means War – leave it to fester

The McG-directed orgy that is This Means War is where things like The Bechdel Test go to die. No, I can do better than that – This Means War has actually crawled up the backside of the Bechdel Test and died there, creating a fermenting kind of stench that radiates out from the innards of this often-useful gender equality assessor. This movie fails so spectacularly, it makes the test look bad.

Lauren Scott (Reese Witherspoon) and her supposedly hilarious best bud (or sister, who knows) Trish (Chelsea Handler) spend their entire time together talking about men. They have a lot of screen time, so there’s a lot of man-talk. This relieved me, because I was worried that a woman who has several kids, and another woman who runs a very successful business, may have something other than men to discuss. They spend all of their time talking about Lauren’s love life, which involves dating two men at once.

First, Lauren meets Tuck (Tom Hardy) through a dating service. Right after her promising date with Tuck, Lauren then heads to a video store, where she gets slobbered on by FDR (Chris Pine, who seems to have the ‘wanker’ part of his characters nailed tight). Lauren tells him, rather inexplicably, that she’s an empowered woman and is perfectly capable of choosing her own video. FDR is so flabbergasted by her sexy legs and empoweredness that he wants to have sex with her and decides that he’ll start harrassing her until she agrees to date him.

As the audience already knows, Tuck and FDR are best buddies at the CIA and have recently been grounded for acting like murderous assholes on a supposedly ‘discreet’ mission. Their boss, some cranky CIA chief (Angela Bassett), is a woman who acts like a man having trouble with one of his prostates. It’s terribly confused acting, presumably the result of a woman in a upper-level job doing her best to overcome the crippling weakness of having a vagina, while also being cleared for access to top-secret information and high-powered guns.

While they sit in their fancy shared office, Tuck and FDR soon realise they’ve met the same girl. They decide to double-date Lauren and let the best man win. Both of these men, of course, have the benefit of access to bugging devices and a team of CIA operatives (all men) who spend every waking moment searching Lauren’s life for clues to what might make a good date. Lucky girl; having your privacy invaded is just what I look for in a potential life partner.

None of this film has a basis in reality, not even emotional reality. Sure, I get the double-date conundrum, but the resolution to this problem is so horribly patronising to all involved that the characters begin to fall to pieces well before the credits start rolling. It defies logic how someone as smart as Lauren does not realise there are two reconnaissance men literally running around her apartment while she’s dancing in her underwear and eating popcorn. And to be so ill-advised by her trash-talking friend, Trish, throughout the entirety of this double-dating debacle? The director and scriptwriter seemed to think that in order to make a woman sound empowered, she had to act like a male character out of a Farrelly brothers movie (think ‘Woogie’ from There’s Something About Mary). Trish is brash and crass and all-round awful; she has sex with her husband at the same time every week while eating some kind of Cheeto-type junk food, and her punchlines are so soul-crushing that they actually made me want to throw things at her, just to stop her giving all token comedic female characters a bad name. (Although if anyone could name me one good comedic female sidekick, I’ll watch the movie they’re in.)

But by far the most cringeworthy part of this film comes towards the end, where one character actually looks into Reese Witherspoon’s eyes and says ‘No more thinking’. Cue romantic music and me making barf noises. I forgot, love makes you stupid, you dumbass!

So no, This Means War is not a movie for people who like to stimulate their brain with, you know, thinking and stuff. It’s a great film for watching Reese Witherspoon wear vertinginous heels and show off her great-but-tiny legs. It’s also a good film for watching handsome men wear tight-fitting shirts and beautifully cut suits, all while they try and vie for the same woman’s attention and punch/shoot several men in the process. That’s what passes for romantic comedy today. Fuck sexual chemistry. When I see films like This Means War, it amazes me how variable an actor’s career can be, particularly when Witherspoon veers from something as excellent as Walk The Line to a role as daft as this. Chris Pine, I think, generally chooses the same type of characters, and that’s probably a good thing because he plays cocky well. So there are some pros, but they’re overwhelmed but the all-consuming stupidity of this film.

This Means War illustrates the kind of female fantasy you may dally with on a lazy Sunday afternoon. But when everyone in this film invariably acts in a way that defies even the most basic elements of trust and deceny, not to mention basic respect for women, the fantasy begins to die pretty quickly. All you’re left with are the shattered remains of the poor Bechdel Test, which will, for the time being, continue to falter every time it comes across the kind of turd-infested storyline and abysmal character development embodied by this film.

More Stuff:

Bechdel Test Wikipedia article (see subheading of ‘Bechdel Test’)

Other reviews: Philippa Hawker was so-so about it, Jim Schembri does his best to justify why the heck he likes it, but very few people seem to agree with him anyway. Thank GOD Cleo totally likes it, as long as you know what to expect (to lose brain cells)


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