This Means War would appear to be the director McG's idea of screwball: a large, hollow, titanium bollock, dropped noisily and from a great height, like a bouncing bomb, upon unsuspecting audiences as part of the Charlie's Angels helmer's ongoing war on good cinematic sense. I know the romcom is a genre more reliant than most on an element of contrivance to get going, but This Means War has yards of the stuff. We're asked to believe an Englishman (Tom Hardy) would be working for the CIA, and that he and his American partner (Chris Pine) - as hunky CIA agents, remember - would be lonely enough to post personal details on a dating website; also that these boys would attract the attentions of the same woman (Reece Witherspoon), with whom Pine will come to flirt around the racks of a video rental store. (A video rental store? Is it 1995 all over again?)
Even with the parameters set, the film keeps generating gibberish: now we're asked to buy that these boys would have nothing better to do than use the Agency's considerable resources to spy on one another, or that McG could know to hire a roomful of Klimts for one particularly opulent sequence, and still manage to burp out something this vacuous. But then McG treats props in the same way he does plot parts, characters, actors - as stuff to be tossed up in the air, smashed together, blown up wherever possible. None of This Means War is remotely realistic, so it hardly matters that its heroine ends up with the wrong guy; we're meant merely to shrug and exit the cinema so that the next crowd of suckers can be ushered in, our money having long been safely secured.
Hardy, at least, is nicely relaxed - as though, at this ascendant moment in his career, he doesn't really have to care about turning up in duds, a sensible approach in these circumstances - but he simply doesn't have the comic chops to navigate material this inherently lame. Pine continues to suggest that, somewhere, there's a boyband missing its third hunkiest member, and it's particularly depressing to see Witherspoon, once a bright and independent screen presence, being reduced to Bridget Jones-like dithering, booty-shaking and cock-craving in a bid to restart a suddenly stalled career. (You know what, Reece? How Do You Know really wasn't that bad - and the script for Legally Blonde 3 has to have been better than this.)
In a film that would rather reduce the fairer sex to the standing of the bikini-clad chick who swims in the pool apparently installed in the roof of Pine apartment (?!), the supporting actresses compete for the most demeaning part: Chelsea Handler has the dirty-talking best friend role, and gets to straddle a fat man in his underwear for the privilege, while erstwhile Academy Award nominee Angela Bassett plays a pair of clicking Agency heels that intermittently interrupt the Pine-Hardy bromance. This Means War was originally scheduled to open for Valentine's Day, but had its release date pushed back several weeks, perhaps because Fox realised the courts couldn't handle the divorce, assault and domestic abuse cases that might follow in its wake; in any event, it remains the least romantic, least amusing and most horrendously chauvinist film 2012 has thus far seen fit to bring us.
This Means War is in cinemas nationwide.