Review: 'This Means War' entertains while leaving no genre untouched

Tuck (Tom Hardy) uses his formidable skills to woo Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) in "This Means War."

Photo by Photo: Kimberley French, TM and © 2012 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved. Not for sale or duplication.

Tuck (Tom Hardy) uses his formidable skills to woo Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) in "This Means War."

Two of the world's deadliest CIA operatives are inseparable partners and best friends - until they discover that they've fallen in love with the same ...

Rating: PG-13 for sexual content including references, some violence and action, and for language

Length: 120 minutes

Released: February 14, 2012 SNEAKS

Cast: Tom Hardy, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Laura Vandervoort, Til Schweiger

Director: McG

Writer: Timothy Dowling, Simon Kinberg

More info and showtimes »

OK, who knew Tom Hardy, the new Batman villain and "Warrior" warrior, could be so funny?

Reese Witherspoon? Sure. Chris Pine? No surprise there.

But Hardy?

In "This Means War," Hardy and Pine audition for James Bond and Ethan Hunt, respectively, playing CIA pals who always get their man. And they play guys who call on all their spycraft — and a lot of national security infrastructure — in competing to woo the same winsome blond, Lauren, played by Witherspoon.

Dating a spy, as we learned in last week's "Safe House," is a tricky proposition. He or she is going to lie. Or at least be a little disingenuous.

"Have you ever killed anybody with your bare hands?"

"Not this week."

Hardy plays Tuck, the shy dad who is split from his little boy's mother, vulnerable enough to be attractive to online date Lauren, who works as a product tester at a marketing company.

And Pine is F.D.R., a rich playboy spy always ready with a line: "I know movies. And women."

That pick-up is as out of date as the video store he tries it out in.

Lauren goes from alone and lying about it to juggling two guys in a heartbeat. Who might be Mr. Long Term?

But since these guys are spies, naturally they find out. And as Bugs Bunny used to put it, "Of course you know, this means war."

So they set up rules — a "gentleman's agreement": "Don't tell her" that they know and "stay out of each other's way" are among those rules. So is "No hanky panky."

This action-packed romantic comedy was directed by "Charlie's Angels" vet McG, who handles the shifts in tone with the requisite skill. One minute, they're shooting it out with the villain (Til Schweiger) and his henchmen, the next they're employing every gadget and invasion of privacy known to the CIA in their battle to woo the girl and keep the other guy from getting her. The generally nameless assistants aren't necessarily in on why they're employing wiretaps and spy satellites to keep tabs on this woman.

The guys play more fully fleshed-out characters, and Hardy in particular seems to relish showing off a softer, sillier side.

Witherspoon's character is on shakier ground. Let's see, she's single and insecure about it — but confident and mercenary enough to play these two in ways any frat boy would appreciate. And no matter what she's done, she gets to play the victim.

"This Means War" feels packaged and market researched and factory sealed for our protection, from the comical way the boys treat an impending torture scene all the way down to giving comic Chelsea Handler, as Lauren's confidante, a purse packed with zingers.

But it's a brisk sprint over familiar ground with just enough appeal to action addicts and romantic-comedy lovers to amuse fans of both genres.

© 2012 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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