Review by Matt Barone (@MBarone)

The best bad movies require us to stretch disbelief and standards of quality almost to the point of discomfort; This Means War, an action-heavy rom-com with a likeable cast but little else to recommend, asks viewers to stick with its as those chords of get-the-hell-out-of-here irritability rip apart, shrivel up, and become piles of ash. Directed by Charlie’s Angels franchise overseer McG, it’s the kind of movie one could imagine Michael Bay dreaming about on Valentine’s Day, complete with the Transformersfilmmaker’s penchant for loud noises, unnecessary explosions, and vapid soul, as well as the creepy invasiveness better explored in Tony Scott’s 1998 thriller Enemy Of The State.

Yes, having said all of that, This Means War is, at its hardly beating heart, a certifiable romantic comedy—an incredibly cynical and morally disreputable one, but, hey, it does star Reese Witherspoon, after all.

Witherspoon, a gifted comedic actress who should know better, plays a lovesick firecracker who’s better at organizing consumer test groups than keeping a man; one day, while perusing through some Alfred Hitchcock DVDs at the video store (don’t ask), she meets Chris Pine, playing a badass, skirt-chasing, shallow CIA hot-shot parading around as a cruise ship captain. Moments prior to their run-in, which leads to several more dates and potential love, Witherspoon was at a lunch date with Tom Hardy (painfully wasting his chops that recently excelled in Warrior), whom she met through an online dating site, and who just so happens to be Pine’s comparably proficient CIA partner.

Once the fellas catch wind of their shared female conquest, This Means War’s “wacky” love triangle plotline commences, replete with a wise-cracking, married best friend for Witherspoon, played to predictably raunchy, though occasionally humorous degrees, by Chelsea Handler. One line of Handler’s in particular, paralleling Mike & Ike’s candy to one dude’s private member, is genuinely funny.

It’s too bad the rest of This Means War isn’t nearly as comically effective. Pine and Hardy, to their deserved and sympathetically issued credit, give fine performances, coasting on their naturalistic charms and hot-for-girls/cool-to-guys appeal as the script, written by Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg(who should, frankly, get angry and resentful at being mentioned here), asks them to humanize men who go above and beyond the call of stalkers. Bugged devices, hidden cameras, and trackers are used by both of them to keep tabs on each other’s progress with Witherspoon, who looks sexier than ever despite her character’s annoying aloofness to some rather obvious CIA trickery courtesy of her all-too-knowing gentlemen callers.

The pitch for This Means Waris, admittedly, an interesting one: What if James Bond was, off the clock, a love-wanting softie, and he had a similarly motivated best friend? But, as should be expected from the director responsible for the style-defeats-substance Charlie’s Angelsflicks, the still goofily named McG used the promising set-up as an excuse to indulge in popcorn rather than the heart. Hitting one’s emotions with all the impact of a feather landing on bubbles, This Means War tries way too hard to look and feel cool, when, really, it should’ve made the slightest effort to adhere closer to its own narrative anchor: central intelligence.

Follow ComplexPopCult