Shaun of the Dead (2004)
by Steve Habrat
Before the summer of 2003, the zombie genre had largely remained dead and buried. There was a sluggish 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead here and the final Italian effort Dellamorte Dellamore there, but the zombies seemed content to rest six feet under. In 2002, we caught a glimpse of the undead in the futuristic action-thriller Resident Evil, a film that was unexpectedly fun despite the fact that it was based around a video game and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson. In 2003, zombies—or should I say INFECTED people—came back in a big way. Danny Boyle’s grim indie 28 Days Later re-ignited interest in the apocalyptic subgenre and the craze grew ever stronger with the spring 2004 release of the Dawn of the Dead remake. With the zombie craze re-established, the fall of 2004 saw the release of British director Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead, a written-in-blood loveletter to George A. Romero’s Dead trilogy, some of the early Italian releases like Lucio Fulci’s Zombie, and, yes, Boyle’s gritty reimagining of the genre. Down-to-earth, warm, hilarious, and tense in all the right places, Shaun of the Dead is without question one of the strongest modern zombie movies and it ranks up there as one of the best undead films ever made. Oh, and it also happens to be a romantic comedy, which means your girlfriend might like it too.
Shaun of the Dead introduces us to Shaun (played by Simon Pegg), whose life seems to be stuck in a rut. He works a dead end job as an electronics salesman at Foree Electric, he loathes his stepfather, Phillip (played by Bill Nighy), he constantly quarrels with his roommate, Pete (played by Peter Serafinowicz), over their lazy best friend Ed, who shacks up on their couch and refuses to get a job, and he wants to spend every night sipping pints in a local pub called the Winchester. To make things worse, Shaun is loosing his girlfriend, Liz (played by Kate Ashfield), who wishes that Shaun would do more with his life. After Shaun forgets to book a table at a fancy restaurant for their anniversary, Liz decides to call it quits with Shaun because he just can’t seem to grow up and take on responsibility. Devastated, Shaun and Ed retreat to the Winchester to drown their sorrows in a couple pints and shots, but the next day, the two awake to discover that mankind has been wiped out and the cannibalistic undead roam the streets. Hungover and terrified, Shaun and Ed begin devising a plot to round up Liz, her roommates, David (played by Dylan Moran) and Dianne (played by Lucy Davis), and Shaun’s mother, Barbara (played by Penelope Wilton), in an attempt to show Liz that he is a responsible adult. The plan is to hold up in the Winchester until the whole thing blows over, but as they begin their trek to the pub, they realize that the situation outside is a lot more dangerous than they had anticipated.
The early scenes of Shaun of the Dead are absolutely hilarious and brimming with social commentary. The opening credits find ordinary citizens shuffling through their daily lives with a blank stare frozen on their faces, rooted in monotonous routines. Even Shaun is stuck in a mundane ritual as he shuffles out of bed like a zombie, throws on his work clothes, and sulks obliviously down to the local market where he picks up sodas and ice cream to munch on while he plays video games with Ed. Funny enough, Ed is the one that reminds Shaun that he can’t jump into a game because he has to go to work. Shaun is so blind to his surroundings that when the zombie apocalypse does finally hit, he has absolutely no idea that it is happening until Ed calmly tells him that there’s a girl in their garden. From here on out, the film falls back on the blind leading the blind. Shaun and Ed are clueless over how to deal with the situation they find themselves in. They think that throwing records like Frisbees at the zombies that have stumbled into their back yard (the movie’s best and funniest sequence) is a good idea and they hilariously believe that they will be able to shack up in a pub and sip pints while the undead pound away outside. These early scenes show that Pegg and Wright, who penned the script, both fully understand that Romero’s Dead trilogy had a lot more on its mind that just blood and guts.
While there are plenty of smarts to be found in the depiction of daily life, which clearly Pegg and Wright detest, the film also gets by on some witty references to other zombie movies. Early on we get a nod to Lucio Fulci, Ken Foree, who was the star of Romero’s 1978 classic Dawn of the Dead, a sly nod to the 1984 cosmic zombie movie Night of the Comet, a hilarious spin on the “we’re coming to get you, Barbara” line from Night of the Living Dead, and charming use of Goblin’s score from Dawn of the Dead. There is also a blink-and-you-miss-it tribute to Boyle’s 28 Days Later near the end of the film. While Wright and Pegg are eager to pay tribute to the zombie movie greats, they create a unique offering to the genre. The film is also a hilarious slacker-stoner comedy and a touching romantic comedy that finds us rooting for the romance to rekindle between Liz and Shaun. By the end of the film, Wright has scrubbed away most of the laughs in favor for the typical gut munching and closed-off claustrophobia that made horror fans fall in love with the zombie genre in the first place. The final sequence has powerful emotional blows, a quick visual gag to break the tension, and then a final siege that finds our heroes realistically trying to work their way around a firearm. The scene is all the better because we truly want every single one of these characters to make it out alive, but when the zombies start trying to claw their way in, our stomach twists into knots and we know that won’t happen.
The characters of Shaun of the Dead are all brilliantly written and beautifully played by a handful of very talented British actors. Pegg is a revelation as Shaun, who still gets a belly laugh out of a good fart joke. He shares several touching moments with the stoner Ed, who seems to have grown roots to the couch and super glued an XBOX controller to his fingertips. Ashfield is sweet and tightly wound as Liz, who thinks that there is a lot more out there for her than simply wasting away at the Winchester. Moran is a geeky puke as David, who pines for Liz even though she sees him as just a friend, and Davis tries to be mediator as Dianne. Nighy is stern discipline as Phillip, Shaun’s no-nonsense stepfather who is given one of the most dramatic scenes of the movie. Serafinowicz is wildly unlikable as Pete, Shaun’s fed-up flat mate and Wilton is naïve as Shaun’s lovable mother Barbara. Amazingly, Wright gets us to like even the most detestable characters and he almost drives us to tears when the cannibals seeking human flesh bite a few of them. Overall, Shaun of the Dead dares to take on quite a bit and it could have been crushed under the heavy load it attempts to lift. It is bound and determined to take on several different genres at once and it does it with shocking ease. It is an inventive, poignant, hilarious, and creepy zombie movie that has even earned praise from the zombie godfather himself, George A. Romero. You’ll want to watch this movie again and again.
Shaun of the Dead is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
The Best and Worst of 2012
by Steve Habrat
I’ll be honest with you, folks, this was a difficult list to do this year. There were a ton of really great movies released in 2012. While I haven’t even come close to seeing every film released, I did try to catch all the biggest movies that made their way to the local theater. I was hoping to have this list up last week but I have fallen behind due to coming down with the a nasty case of stomach flu. So, without further ado, here are my picks for the finest films of 2012, some honorable mentions, and the five biggest stinkers I sat through. Oh, and number 10 is a tie. Please don’t hurt me.
This might be cheating but I’m sort of lumping these two together. Usually, Pixar’s animated offerings are snagging a spot on my top 10 but for the second year in a row, Pixar failed to live up to the quality of their previous films (Up, Toy Story 3, Wall-E). Plus, maybe I’m a sucker for macabre stop motion animation. After two massive duds (Alice in Wonderland, Dark Shadows), Tim Burton finally returns to form with the black and white Frankenweenie, a touching story about a boy and his undead pooch. Maybe you have to be an animal lover and have a soft spot for the Universal Monsters, but I have a feeling that this film will gain a following in the years to come (hopefully by more than just the Hot Topic crowd). Then we have ParaNorman, the hilarious and relentlessly clever zombie romp from Laika about a misfit named Norman who can talk to the dead. It is really hard for me to pick one film over the other but if I honestly had to, I think I’d go with Burton’s big-hearted and downright adorable creature feature. I know what it is like to loose a pet that you love very much and Frankenweenie really nails that feeling. Don’t get me wrong though; both are extremely sweet movies that are infinitely better than Adam Sandler’s obnoxious Hotel Transylvania.
9.) Killing Them Softly
Some dismissed Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly as too heavy handed and about as subtle as a sledge hammer to the teeth. Who cares?! Killing Them Softly is a chilling, apocalyptic, atmospheric, and darkly hilarious gangster film that sends the viewer away more than a little freaked out. Using the 2008 presidential election and the recession as the backdrop, Dominik’s film contains little to no hope and is a grim reminder that in America, we are all on our own. No politician is coming to save us and put us back on our feet. Featuring a powerhouse performance from Brad Pitt (No Oscar love?!) and some truly disturbing sequences (Ray Liotta receives a shockingly brutal beating in a rainstorm and Pitt blows a gangster away as Ketty Lester’s haunting ‘Love Letters’ echoes on the soundtrack), Killing Them Softly is a black-as-night gangster thriller that will stick with you for the rest of your life. I think John over at The Droid You’re Looking For can back me up with this one making the list.
8.) Moonrise Kingdom
Wes Anderson’s whimsical tale about young love in the last days of summer is his quirkiest and most heartwarming film yet. It is the type of film you would want to watch on a warm summer evening with someone you love. Credit should go to the two irresistible leads, Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, the runaway tykes who have more of a grasp on true love than the warring, irresponsible adults who look after them. While Moonrise Kingdom belongs to the kids, the adults certainly do their best to match them. Bruce Willis is outstanding as a heartbroken cop hot on the trail of the runaways while Bill Murray and Frances McDormand steal every scene they are in as dysfunctional parents. And we can’t forget Edward Norton’s bumbling Scout Master Ward, who gets the film’s best line (Jiminy crickets, he flew the coop!). Brimming with innocence and adventure, Moonrise Kingdom may just be Anderson’s masterpiece.
7.) Beasts of Southern Wild
Talk about a film that could move mountains! Benh Zeitlin’s radiant fable about six-year-old Hushpuppy and her life in the Louisiana bayou called “the Bathtub” possess a grimy beauty that took the cinema world by storm earlier this year at Sundance. It went on to be the little film that could over the summer. While I was worried that Beasts of Southern Wild would become a victim of its own hype, the emotional beating the film dishes out and the stark reality of the environment left this viewer staggered. It also didn’t hurt that it contains a jaw dropping performance from the pint-sized Quvenzhané Wallis as the curious little Hushpuppy. You’ll beam as the film focuses on the complex relationship between Huspuppy and her unpredictable father, Wink, who is battling a mysterious illness, and admire the resilience of the individuals who call “the Bathtub” home. Optimistic and brave even in the face of devastation, loss, and heartbreak; Beasts of Southern Wild is a film that overflows with hope and courage. Seek this one out immediately.
6.) Silver Linings Playbook
Let’s be honest for a moment, the romantic comedy has seen better days. Most of the romantic comedies that come out of Hollywood today seem sugarcoated and downright clichéd. Well along comes David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, a gritty, hilarious, and touching story about love lost and love found. Credit should go to Russell, who presents serious character meltdowns with a stinging sense of humor, inviting us to laugh at the extreme ways love makes us behave. The film also owes a lot to the performances from Jennifer Lawrence, Jacki Weaver, Robert DeNiro, Chris Tucker, and Bradley Cooper, an actor that I am usually not a big fan of. Bravo Silver Linings Playbook for making me a fan, at least until the next Hangover movie comes out. In addition to being a sweet love story, the film is also a delicately handled family drama that reminds us that no matter how tough life gets, we can get through it with a little help from our loved ones, even if they sometimes seem crazier than we do.
For the few people out there who still argue that Steven Spielberg is a big budget action hack, I point you towards Lincoln, one of the finest and most accomplished films of Mr. Spielberg’s career. A warts-and-all look at the final months of the 16th president’s life and his push to pass the Thirteenth Amendment, Lincoln is an unflinchingly rich glimpse inside the world of politics that demands to be seen twice. Meanwhile, Daniel Day Lewis slips into the role of Abraham Lincoln and then completely disappears into his skin like you wouldn’t believe. It is the performance of the year that all but guarantees him the Best Actor Oscar. At over two hours, Spielberg consistently refuses to adhere to the normal biopic rules and smartly ignores Lincoln’s early years. Instead, he simply paints a portrait of a man with a heavy heart and in the process he managed to humanize a larger-than-life hero.
4.) Zero Dark Thirty
Director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal’s controversial look at the hunt for Osama bin Laden has been skewered by both political parties, one side claiming that it glorifies torture and the other screaming that it glorifies the Obama administration. How about you all shut up and take Bigelow’s film for what it is— a (mostly) honest if a bit fabricated-for-the-sake-of-story thriller that is essential viewing for all Americans. Zero Dark Thirty ultimately belongs Jessica Chastain’s tough-as-nails Maya, who oversees this seemingly never-ending firestorm with white-hot confidence. You’ll marvel at her no-nonsense approach to eliminating her target, the self-assured woman in a room full of skittish males who him and haw over how to attack our enemy. And I can’t forget the brilliant, white-knuckle final sequence, when the SEALs finally close in on that now famous compound in grainy night vision. While not nearly as tense as the almost flawless The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty is a brooding morality tale that is left on the table for debate.
3.) The Dark Knight Rises
Christopher Nolan’s final installment in his Batman trilogy is just as epic as he promised and just about as bleak as comic book movies come. While I’m sure this is a controversial choice to have in my top 10 of the year, I argue that Nolan once again expertly uses Gotham City to mirror our troubled times. There are hints of the Occupy Wall Street movement here and explorations of the War on Terror there, but it is the sheer scope of the film that truly holds us. Many say it takes a back seat to 2008’s game changer The Dark Knight but I have to go with this snarling beast over the other. It isn’t without flaws and Nolan is juggling a lot of ideas here, but The Dark Knight Rises reminds us that summer blockbusters do not have to simply be candy colored fluff. It demands that the comic book movie genre be taken seriously as high art and it plays by its own rules. This is a fitting and towering climax for one of the best trilogies of recent memory.
After delivering two impressive Boston set thrillers (Gone Baby Gone and The Town), Ben Affleck goes global with Argo, which deals with the Iran hostage crisis of 1979. Argo finds Affleck smoothly navigating through astonishing but true events while measuring out a pinch of nostalgia for film buffs everywhere (I loved the retro Warner Bros. logo at the beginning). Perfectly paced, funny and light when it needs to be, and nerve racking where it really counts, Argo is a film that is the true definition of a crowd pleaser. When you aren’t hanging on how well made the film is, be sure to take in the wonderful performances from Alan Arkin as a cranky movie producer, John Goodman as the wisecracking Hollywood makeup artist, and Affleck himself as CIA specialist Tony Mendez. It may all be a bit predictable but you just can’t turn away from this liberally charged plea for peaceful approaches to violent conflicts. A must see of the highest order.
1.) Django Unchained
Dare I say that Django Unchained is Quentin Tarantino’s best film yet? Even better than Pulp Fiction? You better believe it is. Alive and gushing with the love of cinema and exploitation flicks of the 70s and 80s, Django Unchained is the most entertaining and satisfying movie of 2012. While many have complained over the unflinching use of the N-word and accused Tarantino of using slavery simply for escapist entertainment, I argue that he certainly doesn’t sugarcoat this dark chapter in American history (what we see here is pretty horrific if you ask me). At nearly three hours, this blaxploitation/spaghetti western epic is constantly witty, charismatic, and downright refreshing. It is bursting with some of the best performances of the year (Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, and Samuel L. Jackson are all top notch) and it gets better every time you see it (I’m currently at two times and debating a third trip to the theater to see it). Love him or hate him, you can’t deny that Django Unchained is Tarantino’s ultimate masterpiece, a blood-drenched valentine to the cinema of yesterday. I’m not kidding when I say that Tarantino had me smiling from beginning to end.
The Avengers is an earth-shaking superhero mash-up that beams with jingoism.
Les Misérables is a bloated but soaring musical with knockout performances from Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman.
Skyfall is one of the most exciting and playful Bond films yet.
Looper is a refreshingly original science fiction drama.
Lawless is a chilly look at Prohibition.
The Cabin in the Woods gives the horror genre the jolt it has been searching for.
21 Jump Street is a raunchy and downright hilarious action comedy.
5.) Silent House
Marketed as being one single shot and presented in real time, this cheeseball horror flick about a girl trapped in a house with what may or may not be a supernatural killer suffers from poor acting and a completely preposterous climax.
4.) Rock of Ages
This bland musical set to rocking 80s tunes is all glammed up with nowhere to go. Not even a superb Tom Cruise could wake the party up.
3.) Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
The abrasive follow up to the god-awful Ghost Rider finally gives the fans what they want and shows them what it looks like when the demonic hero urinates.
2.) That’s My Boy
Adam Sandler goes R-rated and manages to produce one of the most offensive and unfunny films you will ever see. Keep away from it at all costs.
1.) Total Recall
The remake no one was begging for, this poor excuse for a science fiction thriller is like watching someone else play the dumbest video game ever created. I may never forgive you for this, Colin Farrell. Not even the three-breasted alien prostitute could make it interesting.
Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
by Steve Habrat
After spending time with the boxer Micky Ward and his dysfunctional clan in The Fighter, writer-director David O. Russell decides to lighten up a bit and tickle our funny bones with the romantic comedy-drama Silver Linings Playbook. Based on the novel of the same name by Matthew Quick, Silver Linings Playbook retains some of the grittiness and raw family drama that made up The Fighter, which turns this sappy exercise of love lost and love found into something very heartwarming and special. With his real-world tone set in the first few moments of the film, Russell then focuses on creating characters that are all a bit nutty, which instantly allows the viewer to fall in love with them. Russell even managed to make me really like Bradley Cooper, an actor that I have always felt was highly overrated and never as charismatic as he has been made out. With the character he takes here, Cooper makes a strong case for himself and actually manages to lure me over to “Team Cooper” if only for a little while (I hear there is another Hangover movie coming out this summer so my feelings may change once I see that one). Yet Silver Linings Playbook ultimately belongs to Jennifer Lawrence, the young but aggressive widow who befriends Cooper’s bipolar Patrick and attempts to keep his feet on the ground. It is the relationship between them that is the mushy core of Silver Linings Playbook and the part that you just won’t be able to shake off.
After catching his beloved wife Nikki (Played by Brea Bee) having an affair, Pat Solitano (Played by Bradley Cooper) suffers a violent melt down and is sent to a mental health facility for severe bipolar disorder. After eight months of treatment, Pat is released to his doting mother, Dolores (Played by Jacki Weaver), and his Philadelphia Eagles obsessed father Pat Sr. (Played by Robert DeNiro). With a new positive outlook on life, Pat spends his days refusing to take his medication, reading, exercising, and thinking up ways to win Nikki back, even though she has moved away and has a restraining order against him. Convinced he is on the right track, Pat reconnects with his friend Ronnie (Played by John Ortiz) and his overbearing wife, Veronica (Played by Julia Stiles). One evening, Pat attends a dinner at Ronnie’s house where he ends up meeting Tiffany, a beautiful young widow and recovering sex addict who he forms a quirky relationship with. As the two bond, Pat tries to convince Tiffany to help him communicate with Nikki but Tiffany will only help him if he enters a dance competition with her. Pat reluctantly agrees but he soon finds himself being pulled away from Tiffany by his football obsessed family. To make things worse, Pat begins to fear that he may not be able to win Nikki back.
While Silver Linings Playbook has some heavy moments that rival those found in The Fighter, Russell manages to milk some chuckles even from the most severe situations. The flashback scene where Pat catches Nikki having an affair is cleverly shot from Pat’s POV with a dreamy haze clouding the frame. It is a tense moment that throws a moment of hilarity our way just before Pat unleashes on the guy Nikki is having an affair with. Another scene finds Pat desperately searching for his wedding video. He bursts into his parent’s room in a panic and forces his mother out of bed to aid him in his search (this is just one moment where he bursts in on his poor parents in the middle of the night). As tensions rise and tempers flare, Pat suffers a breakdown that finds fists and slaps flying and the neighbors congregating outside the Solitano home in disbelief. It is a confrontation that should have us nervously shifting in our seats but there is something vaguely hilarious and absurd about it, especially when Patrick accidentally hits his mother. When we aren’t chuckling at the blow ups, we will be getting a kick out of a tour of Ronnie’s home, where Patrick and Tiffany continuously make one inappropriate statement after another (one involving iPod docks and Metallica is especially hilarious). Then there is awkward first date between Tiffany and Patrick on Halloween night, one that starts harmless enough but then spirals horribly out of control as tables are knocked over and the police respond to an argument outside of a movie theater as kids in Halloween costumes close in on poor Patrick. It is almost as if Russell is inviting us to observe the silver lining to these situations, to look past the seriousness and just laugh at our own insanity.
Then there are the spot on performances from Cooper and Lawrence, both that do crazy very, very well. I’ve never found Cooper to be particularly funny but I must say he really delivers the laughs here. He is pathetic in his constant state of delusion and stubbornness, insisting that he doesn’t need to take his medication because he thinks it makes him foggy and bloated. You can’t help but feel sorry for him as he insists that he will get back together with Nikki and everything will work out. When his extreme personality mixes with Tiffany’s, Silver Linings Playbook really soars. Tiffany is just as erratic as Cooper’s sporty Patrick, but she hides behind tangled mess of dark hair and thick eye make-up. It is certainly the most mature role that Lawrence has taken yet, one that dips into pure teary-eyed emotion and shies away from the chilly, closed-off intensity she brought to Winter’s Bone and The Hunger Games. On the outside, she is strong and firm, but the more she opens up, the easier it is for her to break. Meanwhile, DeNiro gives one of his strongest and emotionally charged performances in years as Pat’s father. A scene where he begs to spend more time with his son is heart wrenching and, yes, hilarious. Weaver is in top form as Pat’s fussy mother, who really enjoys making snacks for her boys as they huddle around the television. Chris Tucker is also present in a small role as Danny, a fellow patient from the mental heath facility who keeps trying to break out.
At two hours, I feared that Silver Linings Playbook would begin to loose steam in its second half but thankfully it doesn’t. The second half of the film focuses heavily on a bet made by Pat’s father and a fellow buddy with a bad gambling problem. Naturally, the bet centers on the Eagles and the big dance competition that Tiffany and Patrick are participating in. When we finally get to the big dance competition, the big moment seems all too brief and, dare I say, rushed. Either way, the dance routine is wonderfully handled and ends up being a bit of bubbly fun. As far as the family drama is concerned, Russell once again proves that he really knows how to handle this type of material and make the emotions relatable. Maybe it is the lack of polish that really allows these scenes and characters to come to life. Overall, Silver Linings Playbook is a pragmatic reminder that we are all bit crazy, some just a more than others. It is a touching, funny, sweet, and irresistible love story that really has us rooting for the emotionally shattered Patrick and Tiffany. It is a comforting reminder that every moment is another chance for us to heal, we just have to watch for the signs.
This Means War (2012)
by Steve Habrat
Love is a battlefield, a clammy, sexy, battlefield according to director McG, the hot shot, second rate Michael Bay. This Means War is a film overly concerned with a sexy appearance and frankly, not much more. McG, the director of such sugary blockbusters like Terminator: Salvation and Charlie’s Angles, is only interested with the outer shell of his products, sacrificing story and even moments of coherence just to nab a shot of Reese Witherspoon’s bottom to drive the male audience wild or twist Tom Hardy or Chris Pine into the proper pose to take the female audience’s breath away. For a film as shallow as This Means War, there are sporadic moments of hilarity and fizzy chemistry between the three stars that almost make up for a one-note script, half-hearted message about love, and a sub plot that is almost entirely forgotten by the people behind the camera. Oh well, at least it looks good!
This Means War introduces us to super spies FDR (Played by Chris Pine) and Tuck (Played by Tom Hardy), a pair of best chums who globe trot around in slick suits, hit on gorgeous gals, and track a terrorist by the name of Heinrich (Played by Til Schweiger). After their target narrowly gets away in the opening shoot out, a confrontation that leaves Heinrich’s brother Jonas dead, FDR and Tuck return to the states and are benched out of protection from Heinrich. These perfect male specimens also apparently have crappy luck when it comes to women. FDR enjoys womanizing and Tuck, a divorced dad, resorts to online dating to meet a good gal. As it turns out, down-on-her-luck Lauren (Played by Reese Witherspoon), a product-testing executive, is paired up with Tuck. After their first date, which goes rather well, Lauren bumps into FDR, who pursues her until she agrees to go on a date with him. FDR and Tuck soon decide to reveal to each other who they have been dating. When they realize it is the same girl, they decide they are still going to pursue Lauren and let her decide who she wants to be with. This does not stop them from trying to sabotage each other in the process, using every spy trick in the book.
This Means War leans heavily on the gag that these two guys use every espionage tool at their disposal to keep tabs on each other’s progress with Laruen, who remains clueless the entire time. They conceal hidden cameras in her apartment, tap her phone, and have a team of techies that aid them along and deliver information. It’s all slightly amusing but never overly hilarious until Tuck takes Laruen paintballing, after she tells her best friend Trish (Played by Chelsea Handler, who plays herself here) that he is a bit too safe and earnest. What transpires is a hysterical shoot out at a paintball range, a scene that single handedly out shines every other humorous moment This Means War has to offer. This trumping each other does get fatigued at times, the film always trying to devise another scenario where one can shoot the other with a knock out dart or one can use a mini spy plane to tail the other.
When the one note gag yawns, the film suddenly remembers the side plot involving Heinrich, who is slowly making plans of his own to find FDR and Tuck. The problem here is that the film brushes over these moments and seems too anxious to get back to Tuck and FDR’s battle for Lauren. If the filmmakers were going to half-ass this aspect of the film, you would have thought that they would have made their scuffle over Lauren the only plot. What makes this even worse is that there are so many plot holes in the Heinrich plot that nothing ever adds up! Half the time we are just left hanging. We learn that he is a terrorist but who does her terrorize exactly? What is the device at the beginning of the film and why is it so sinister? Why does he even need to be arrested? Because he is frequents swanky rooftop bars? Who cares, back to Tuck hijacking a radio frequency and feeding FDR false information while he is on a date!
For such a lackluster film, at least Pine, Hardy, and Witherspoon all come out with their dignity in tact. In addition to their physical appearance, these three actually posses talent and know how to make everything work, even if they are straining. It’s good to have Witherspoon back after a string of low-key dramas no one remembers. She was lovable while she juggles two love interests. If you’ve seen Inception, Bronson, or Warrior, then you already know that Hardy is an astonishingly talented guy (Seriously, see Bronson for a mind blowing performance) and here, he plays things fairly average, something that was both fresh after some of the roles he has taken and somewhat disappointing because he is a truly colorful guy. Like Witherspoon, Pine hasn’t had much of a presence at the movies since his awesome performance as Captain Kirk in Star Trek. He retains some of the cockiness he utilized when he tackled Captain Kirk, acting as the much more confident one to Hardy’s average Joe.
This Means War is loaded with photogenic moments. A glimmering explosion here, a sexy thespian there, and strobe like fight scenes everywhere. It’s painfully obvious at times (Lauren is a product tester who is also testing two guys to figure out who is the better choice) and the message is about as subtle as an elephant crashing through your front door. Yes, love is a battlefield where people get hurt and it can also be a game where you have to plot your next move meticulously. But in This Means War, the plotting of the moves is sometimes borderline creepy (Seriously, phone tapping?!). It’s all in good fun says director McG, who plays everything up to juvenile boys just being juvenile boys. I enjoyed myself in spurts during This Means War, never really hating it but never really having my funny bone tickled too hard (The paintball scene was an exception). I guess I should look on the bright side, at least Katherine Heigl was nowhere to be found.