Here’s what your taxes pay for: Two CIA agents locked in the eternal struggle over a woman, utilizing the technology the public worked to pay for to spy on her. Millions of dollars are being splurged, not even considering these dolts actually employ people to help them. One can picture a coup in Botswana that puts American military lives in danger, all while these two hog the equipment for a quick lay.
Let’s assume, for the sake of humanity, that the CIA doesn’t sit around in spacious desks pecking away at keyboards aimlessly. Let’s play in romantic comedy-verse, where the rules are entirely the film’s own. It’s one those where everything revolves around finding a guy or finding a woman, where the only dialogue centers around uber-hot 30-somethings who somehow never found Mr./Mrs. Right. Never mind the best friend did. That’s necessary to be “quirky.”
To This Means War’s credit, the perky friend is the only salvageable element. Chelsea Handler is allowed to push the PG-13 a tad with flippant sexual references that produce the only stern laughs. Interactions between Reese Witherspoon, Tom Hardy, and Chris Prine are groan-inducing, culled from the handbook of romantic comedy screen writing… the cliff notes version.
Say you have this idea for CIA romance -cheeky as it may be for government satire- and you don’t do anything with it. Nothing comes from Pine and Hardy prancing around as super agents except marketability for a wide audience. Seeing them shoot people is to give the guys something to tolerate, while it impedes on the romance. Action is disruptive more so than its involving, a stop gap to bridge emotional lows. The only reason the CIA is even an element is to create the inevitable break-up, which shocking to no one, hits right on cue.
Here’s a film so lean, it needs a meet cute. Pine, for an unexplainable reason named FDR here, reaches for the same DVD as Witherspoon in a rental store. Part of it is meant to show the rental store still exists as a viable revenue stream (although never in the flashy form showcased here), and the other because the genre said so. That type of schmaltz works great in test showings because it’s familiar, and it’s even better for the screen writer who doesn’t need to think, merely copy formula.
Even Witherspoon’s mannerisms have a basis in dry genre appeal. She’s spunky! She’s single! She has a quirky job! She’s blonde! It’s all cut and paste, a personality derived from prior success. The movie is a total throw away, the CIA aspects a sole generator of potential, weakened by the sheer stupidity of the execution.
Can anyone answer why, in all of this generation’s spy films, rooms loaded with super computers are attached to monitors that only display teal? The entirety of the CIA offices and digital tracking cut-aways (used to cover edits and transitions) are teal. It doesn’t even fit within the aesthetic of the film, which is otherwise a blindingly colorful, super sweet sugary treat. Flesh tones will carry the tendency to wipe out any natural base (plentiful orange), while everything else is saturated to the point of bleeding, but stopping just shy.
It’s an excuse to look pleasing, even if other elements veer off the tracks. For instance, black levels are subject to wavering. They never quite find a solidified groove to fall into. Too often they break down into murky elements and rob the piece of its depth. There’s a definite need for bolder, richer blacks on occasion, mostly in the interior rooms of the CIA.
The strangest element is the grain structure. It’s laid on thick in general, which is fine given the capable encode used to resolve it. Where things take a turn are the rather alarming number of noisy spikes, where the screen becomes awash with grain. They feel random and out of place, as if they’re supposed to be covering something up or were added in post. The digital look doesn’t appear as if it’s part of the stock, but again, the encode keeps enough of a hold to mitigate the visual discrepancy.
There’s enough texture pushing through haze to give This Means War some visual pop post-colors. Close-ups perform admirably while a slew of establishing exteriors are phenomenal. A date with Hardy and Witherspoon at a fair is alive with brilliant lights and vivid definition. A Ferris Wheel is dazzling when the camera showcases it. The disc is a looker even with the concerns.
Audio design will reach a peak in the opening scene, a shoot-out at a lavish party where gunfire will lackadaisically sprint from one end of the soundfield to the next, while the sub peeks in to see what’s going on. There’s a bit of punch to the shots, although it’s marginalized. This Means War is clearly meant for a different demographic than the usual action flick, and the mundane use of, well, everything sort of handicaps it.
It’s not awful. There’s clear use of the sound stage and directional effects are certainly evident. It’s more as if the shoot outs have no boldness to them, no real aggression. Clearly, home theater owners have been infinitely spoiled over the years, and This Means War is no standard bearer.
Inside restaurants or clubs, creation of ambiance is thin, so even the quieter material is drab. Surrounds are hardly employed or barely noticeable. The effect isn’t there. If nothing else, the film sends itself off with a bang, a bunch of cars flipping and nonsensical explosions in an attempt to salvage the male audience expecting some booms. It provides, but it’s safe to assume it’s not enough to sit through this one a second time.
Director McG becomes involved with the extended edition of this dud, a cut of the film adding around six minutes, with a solo commentary track (note the theatrical cut is included too). He’ll continue discussing six deleted scenes (15:49), three alternate endings (6:55), and a brief alternate opening done in animatics. A gag reel has a couple of gems, and a bachelorette party is an extension of the ending. Why that’s not in the deleted scenes is anyone’s guess. Trailers and BD-Live access are there if you want them too.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.