Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Tom Hardy, Chris Pine, Chelsea Handler, Til Schweiger.
THIS Valentine's Day release is like the girl with the curl - when it's good, it's very good and when it's bad, it's horrid.
It's also a strange choice for a Valentine's Day release. While it wants to be all things to all people by aiming for a heady mix of manly spy action and ladylike rom-com flourishes, it ends up being more of a misguided "bromance" with Reese Witherspoon as the MacGuffin.
Hardy and Pine (aside from being wood-related descriptors) are best mates Tuck and FDR, who work together as CIA operatives and end up accidentally dating the same woman, Lauren (Witherspoon).
That's about as far as the plot goes. In the agonising introduction to the characters, we have to be told repeatedly that Tuck and FDR are best friends because Pine and Hardy lack the chummy chemistry to make us believe it. From there it's straight into their escalating game of one-upmanship as they use their espionage know-how and gadgetry to impress the oblivious Lauren while simultaneously sabotaging each other's attempts.
This is when This Means War works. Hardy and Pine are far more convincing as "frenemies", Witherspoon could do this kind of rom-com role in her sleep, and Handler gets plenty of good lines as Lauren's best friend Trish, who continually urges Lauren to think like a man and strike a victory for women everywhere by dating two guys at once.
But as it progresses, the action gets out of hand, the characters do increasingly strange and infuriating things, and the film loses its way. Director McG doesn't help, again demonstrating his ability to render any action scene incomprehensible through frustrating editing.
Despite all this, the film somehow manages to make us care about Tuck, FDR and Lauren, and as the plot backs itself into a corner as it searches for a satisfactory ending, you do wonder how it's going to pan out.
The finale itself isn't the best, but somewhere in all the mess, for about thirty minutes in the middle, there are some good laughs, a decent idea, and interesting characters. It doesn't last, but it might generate enough goodwill to let you enjoy the rest of the film.