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MOVIE REVIEW: 'This Means War' takes aim at charming Rom-Com, but misses mark

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

This Means War (PG-13)

1 1/2 out of 4 stars

There's a fine line between charming and banal farce and every scene in "This Means War" squarely lands in the latter category. Even by modest, end-of-winter standards it is a catastrophic bust that is impossible to swallow on virtually every level.

Echoing TV's brain-dead "The Bachelorette," "This Means War" has two model-ready males falling over each and acting stupid while vying for the attention of a gorgeous career woman who is still reeling from an unspecified recent dumping.

Prancing around in a series of skimpy outfits that make her look more like a pole dancer than consumer watchdog, Reese Witherspoon plays the wishbone Lauren, who goes from famine to feast in what seems like seconds thanks to an intervention orchestrated by her gal pal Trish (Chelsea Handler, predictably risque). Without Lauren's knowledge, Trish creates a profile for her on an Internet dating website that portrays her as a cast-off from "Girls Gone Wild." This is the kind of thing enemies to do each other, not close friends.

The freshly divorced Tuck (Tom Hardy) takes one look at Lauren and goes gaga. Why an Englishman of apparent refinement would think he could find true love with the woman presented on Lauren's profile page is just one of dozens of situations that even a fifth-grader would find suspect.

Far more suave than Tuck, FDR (Chris Pine) accidentally-on-purpose makes Lauren's acquaintance after her initial rendezvous with Tuck in a video rental store that is the size of an airplane hanger. Folks in L.A. must rent a bunch of videos because this store stocks a couple dozen copies of every title in the Hitchcock catalogue.

FDR lives in a penthouse apartment and has a ceiling that is actually the glass bottom of a swimming pool where bikini-clad babes pass by regularly. Tuck's place looks like something that was appointed by somebody working for Prince in the early '90s. Both men's homes scream metrosexual and their working and personal relating to each other goes way beyond bromantic and into homoerotic territory.

As it turns out they're partners in the CIA which is evidently now located in downtown L.A. -- because that is far sexier and hipper than Langley, Va. After they botch the arrest of a Euro-trash bad guy (a perpetually scowling Tieg Schweiger), Tuck and FDR have scads of free time to engage in their ever-escalating battle for Lauren's heart while keeping her in the dark. With the unquestioned assistance from a dozen or so minion agents, the pair spends God knows how much of your tax dollars stalking Lauren while trying to cancel each other out.

After discovering the history of this project, it's easier to understand why it is so snakebit. In addition to being tossed around from studio to studio like a bad penny for 15 or so years, it has also had roughly a dozen leading men attached to it, the last two being Sam Worthington and Seth Rogen, both who ran from it like it was nuclear waste.

Even though everyone with a speaking role comes off looking like a total moron, most of them will probably emerge unscathed in the long run. For action/adventure regulars Pine and Hardy, this was their collective dipping of the toe in the romantic comedy waters and now they can say they've done it and it wasn't for them, thank you very much.

In spite of the fact she's given next to nothing in the way of decent material, Handler's execution of her pottymouth character never fails to generate a laugh and proves to be the comical oasis in this desert of clunky one-liners and crotch-level sight gags. Is this the best thing the major studios could have come up with for Valentine's Day?

The totally miscast Witherspoon will still be a bankable draw, but it's likely she's seen the last of her $20 million-per-picture paychecks. In the wake of "How Do You Know" and "Water for Elephants," this will almost assuredly be her third clunker in a row and will give many studio executives reason to bypass her for future high-profile gigs. She needs to go low budget and/or art-house and try to retrieve some of street cred.

The biggest loser in all of this is director McG, whose insipid, fast-food moniker matches his level of filmmaking prowess. Known mostly for the "Charlie's Angels" franchise, McG's garish jackhammer approach to everything he touches makes his pseudo-contemporaries Guy Ritchie and Quentin Tarantino look like European minimalists. (Fox)