Terribly stupid, totally fun.

I needed a laugh when I saw This Means War. And I got it. Terribly stupid, but totally fun. Also: Tom Hardy.

I broke my rule last week. I read a review of This Means War before I saw it. I only read one: Roger Ebert’s vicious pan of the film. While I’ve not always shared Ebert’s taste, I have developed a deep affection for him as a champion of independent movies, liberal politics, and, after cancer surgery left him without the ability to speak, how to live with a disability with integrity.

So I was rather dismayed at the tone he took in his review of This Means War,which not only attacked Reese Witherspoon for not being a sexpot and therefore absurd as a woman that Chris Pine and Tom Hardy would go to war over, but also blasted the relationship between best friends Pine and Hardy, who do everything together and adore each other like brothers. “Because surely they’re gay,” Ebert writes.

If only. I’d love Tom Hardy to play gay. With me. But there’s nothing gay about Tuck (Hardy) and FDR (Pine) and their friendship unless you believe, like so many adolescent homophobes seem to, that any vague display of affection between two men must mean they’re sleeping together.

I saw the film in a theater full of young straight guys and they seemed to love the movie. Partly, I’m sure, because of the competition between Tuck and FDR, and partly because it’s very, very funny.

This isn’t to say that This Means War is a brilliant film. It is absurd; the plot requires more than your average suspension of disbelief. Tuck and FDR are twoCIA agents who are grounded after turning a covert mission in Hong Kong into a frenzied gunfight that ends with the brother of their target falling from a skyscraper. Instead of doing their desk jobs, they both start dating Lauren, who doesn’t know they are CIA agents or that they know each other. As the men compete for her affections, they devote more and more CIA resources to tracking and sabotaging each other. And then the target of the Hong Kong fiasco shows up to take revenge. Insanity ensues.

As silly as it is, I found This Means War very funny and very entertaining. McG paces the comedy and the action equally well, but he also has Reese Witherspoon, something like a cross between late ’80s Meg Ryan and mid ’60s Doris Day. Tom Hardy, who is distractingly sexy, oozes charm and winking humor. Chris Pine, who has a distractingly large forehead, pulls off FDR just fine, but I would rather the role had been cast with someone a bit less safe, a little more dangerous. I doubt a little more edge would have pleased Ebert; he just hated it, and possibly for all of the wrong reasons.

This Means War
Directed by McG
Written by Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg
Starring Reese Witherspoon, Tom Hardy, Chris Pine and Chelsea Handler
Rated PG-13

Yes, I am still reviewing movies. Here are the last four!

I’ve been very distracted over the last month, and while I’ve been turning in my reviews and they’ve been getting published, I’ve been spacing on linking to them. So, here are the four that I haven’t told y’all about, in order of most recent release.

50/50: I think one of the weirder genres of film is the disease comedy. Even if the film itself is an organic melding of comedy and tragedy, the idea itself is jarring. Paul Rudnick’s Jeffrey is a damn good movie (though a much better play), but it’s a sex comedy about AIDS. I mean, really. The Big C is a sitcom starring a host of wonderfully funny actors – Laura Linney, Oliver Platt, John Benjamin Hickey, Cynthia Nixon – but it’s about a woman with terminal cancer. Ugh. In the newest of the genre, 50/50, Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) responds to the stunned silence that follows the announcement of his diagnosis by asking, “Have you seen Terms of Endearment?” referencing the mother of all cancer comedies. How meta. And since it’s meant to get a laugh, it’s even more self-referential. [Read the whole thing.]

Moneyball: Michael Lewis’ 2003 book about how the Oakland Athletics’ general manager Billy Beane used baseball statistics in complex, innovative and surprisingly winning ways was a phenomenal bestseller. Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game has remained hugely popular for years, not just because Lewis managed to write a good sports drama but also because he wrote a great business book about how a macho, intuitive industry was changed by analytic nerds. While sports metaphors work well in business, and sports movies can be great drama, business books don’t make great films. However, the film based on Moneyball is a great movie, and this despite the business drama behind it, with the second director Steven Soderbergh getting fired and an Aaron Sorkin script getting rewritten. But Brad Pitt (playing Beane), Bennett Miller (who directed Capote), and Steve Zaillian (who adapted Schindler’s List), have hit a home run. (Sorry.) [Read the whole thing. Bonus: There’s a capsule review of Drive at the end.]

Contagion: I guess if you really want to scare the Bejesus out of audiences, releasing a movie about a mysterious, end-of-the-world viral pandemic on the weekend of the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks is one sure-fire way.

Unlike traditional horror movies that revolve around supernatural evil (The Exorcist) or angry psychopaths (Friday the 13th) or science fiction (28 Days Later), Contagion earns its horror by telling a story as close to possible as Traffic or The Hurt Locker did and then lets the underlying nervous terror wrought by the weekend amplify the fear. It’s a cynical, manipulative and exploitative move, and I’m not sure how commercially successful such a movie can be.

However, if you have Steven Soderbergh directing Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard and Laurence Fishburne, you can probably get funding for a movie about alfalfa farmers; you can get a lot of funding if you say your movie is Outbreak crossed with Traffic. It would help, of course, if the movie was as good as Traffic, Steven Soderbergh’s problematic masterpiece. Alas, it’s not. [Read the whole thing.]

Warrior: I must admit that going into the theater to see the mixed martial arts movie Warrior, I thought it was based on a true story. I don’t know why I thought this. It may have been its gritty similarity to The Fighter, last-year’s Oscar-winning movie about the real-life boxer Micky Ward and his brother Dicky. Or maybe it was that the last time Tom Hardy, the break-out star of last year’s Inception, was bulked up this huge, he was in Bronson, the mostly true story about an infamous British criminal.

Whatever the reason was, I think that believing that the brothers Brendan and Tommy Conlon were real people helped me to fall for the film in ways that were quite unexpected for me. Because I must also admit that the reason I was initially so excited to see Warrior is that I knew it would feature a lot of shirtless muscle gods wailing on each other. [Read the whole thing.]