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This Means War - Tom Hardy, Chris Pine and Reese Witherspoon
Romantic rivals Tuck (Tom Hardy) and FDR (Chris Pine) are CIA agents competing to win the unaware Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) © 2012 Twentieth Century Fox

The only thing that keeps this misguided McG-directed misfire from being the worst movie so far this year is last month’s even more unwatchable One for the Money. That Katherine Heigl abomination and this juvenile dud are both “comedy action romances” that mix dating with destruction, hoping to attract both hyperactive boys and the unfortunate females who put up with them.

Reese Witherspoon stars as Lauren, a single thirty-something consumer products researcher who keeps bumping into her blissfully happy ex-boyfriend and his adoring new paramour. Screenwriters Simon Kinberg (X-Men: The Last Stand, Sherlock Holmes) and Timothy Dowling (Just Go With It, Role Models) apparently couldn’t make up their mind whether Lauren is a ditzy and self-deprecating Tina Fey type or a seductively sophisticated sex object.

One minute, she’s making up stories about a fake surgeon boyfriend named Ken, a la Liz Lemon’s imaginary astronaut husband Mike Dexter on 30 Rock. The next minute, Lauren is exchanging double entendre banter with the coolness of a seen-it-all cougar.

Lauren is being pursued by childishly immature CIA agents Tuck (Tom Hardy) and the unlikely named FDR (Star Trek‘s Chris Pine), but not because she’s a national security risk. Divorced dad Tuck has met her through a computer dating site.

Unaware of that relationship, FDR hits on Lauren at a DVD store. When the two friends realize they are seeing the same girl, winning her favor becomes a competition that involves escalating levels of surveillance, sabotage and strife.

This Means War - Tom Hardy and Chris Pine
Tuck (Tom Hardy) and FDR (Chris Pine) don’t see eye-to-eye on their new assignment © 2012 Twentieth Century Fox

British-accented Hardy’s Tuck is completely out of place, partly because he’s not a very convincing ladies man and also because he comes across here as sort of slow.

Pine has the opposite problem, playing FDR with a cocky, manipulative arrogance that’s almost equally off-putting. Every main character in the movie acts more like a clueless adolescent than an adult.

A subplot about an international crime lord seeking revenge against Tuck and FDR is brainlessly executed even though it’s not played for laughs. Chelsea Handler appears as Lauren’s married and crassly annoying best friend Trish, whose endlessly crude comments sound too much like bad sitcom dialog.

This Means War eventually devolves into the kind of supposed-to-be-funny all-out fighting among friends that made Mr & Mrs Smith (also written by Kinberg) seem so violently stupid.

Director McG’s last film was 2009’s semi-respectable Terminator: Salvation, but his carelessly generic work here is more like his two obnoxious Charlie’s Angels outings. The movie doesn’t even look good, with many backgrounds blurred into abstract muddles.

A rare enjoyable scene features Lauren dancing and singing to herself in her apartment, completely unaware that FDR and Tuck are there doing background research on her while artfully keeping out of sight. But too much of the rest of the movie is “paintball to the crotch” stuff.

This Means War and The Vow are the two big-studio releases hoping for some Valentine’s Day love from theatergoers this month. For an infinitely more satisfying romantic night out, forsake those two unworthies and find a theater that’s showing The Artist instead.

[Rating: 1 star]

This Means War has advance screening from today Tuesday February 14 and the main release Friday February 17, 2012 (US, Canada and Australia). UK release is March 2, 2012.