Depending on how you interpret it, This Means War is either another insipid, aggressively convoluted candy-colored flick from that auteur of nothingness McG, or one of the great unrequited male love stories of all time.

The portrait of two men who really only have eyes for each other, it’s an aggressively formulaic, borderline nonsensical fantasy about Los Angeles-based CIA studs FDR and Tuck (Chris Pine and Tom Hardy) who fall for a woman named Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) and set out to woo her in an elaborate pissing contest.

Taken at face value, this is pretty insufferable stuff. It’s an absurdly bright, peppy affair that’s clearly been test-screened to death in order to find the “perfect” balance of action and romance. The over-the-top pandering offers a calculated mix of sleek locales (Pine’s house is built under sheer glass swimming pool), painfully clichéd comedy (Chelsea Handler will wisecrack you to death as Witherspoon’s ribald best friend) and high-concept plotting.

The characters behave exactly as movie characters do, without so much as the slightest overture toward reality. Genuine human emotions are casually discarded as FDR and Tuck, best friends and partners who do everything together, gladly indulge in their one-upmanship over a girl each professes to love. FDR (yes, he goes by FDR without irony) casually ruins a romantic evening between Tuck and Lauren by turning on the indoor sprinklers. For revenge, Tuck shoots FDR with a tranquilizer dart. They reunite and argue a bit at work the next day.

The ridiculous stuff might have been tolerable had it been helmed by someone other than McG, the Charlie’s Angels director who lovingly embraces superficial big Hollywood’s worst excesses. In his hands, the movie becomes cinematic cotton candy, beautiful people fluff that attempts to float by on sound, fury and movie star charm.

Of course, as I’ve said, there’s another way to look at This Means War and to have much more fun doing it. If this were a real movie with the courage of its convictions, and not some processed paycheck job destined for the low end of the Netflix action section, it would be a tender gay love story, the story of two macho men learning to accept their obvious mutual attraction.

Put simply, FDR and Tuck are far less interested in Lauren than they are in each other. They banter, flirt and speak openly of their “platonic” love. They work and play together. It’s frequently said that they have no other friends. An overly jealous FDR insists that he accompany Tuck on his first date with Lauren, before any of the ménage à trois stuff has started. The guys even drop tidbits about seeing each other’s private parts. In other words, the romantic tension doesn’t just simmer; it’s a full on rolling boil.

That love story between FDR and Tuck — between Pine and Hardy — is this movie’s real story. Maybe, someday, a future This Means War could be honest about it.

The Upside: The movie is a portrait of tender, deep-rooted love — between its male protagonists.

The Downside: This is candy-coated, hyper-commercial fluff that’s totally divorced from reality.

On the Side: Tom Hardy needed the money, right?

Grade: C-


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