What do women want?
According to the romantic comedy “This Means War,” it’s to be caught in a love triangle between two handsome secret agents so committed to winning her heart that each has his own CIA unit monitoring her every conversation and move, even into the bedroom.
It’s as creepy as it sounds, but then “This Means War,” directed by McG (“Charlie’s Angels”) from a screenplay by Timothy Dowling (“Just Go With It”) and Simon Kinberg (“Mr. & Mrs. Smith”), seems to have been made my men who have never met a woman, much less asked her what she wants.
Reese Witherspoon plays Lauren, a Pasadena product tester whose best friend (Chelsea Handler) signs her up for an Internet dating site and soon finds herself torn between lifelong best friends Franklin Delano Roosevelt “FDR” Foster (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy).
It’s Tuck, a sweet divorced dad, who connects with Lauren online, but even after they make goo-goo eyes over coffee, Lauren agrees to go out with swinging bachelor FDR, whom she meets in a video store. Since Tuck’s cover is that he’s a travel agent, it might as well be 1996.
For the women in the audience, it’s one fantasy date after another, as Tuck and Lauren go trapeze-swinging under a big top lit with a disco ball and FDR takes her to an undisclosed location in which some of the most famous paintings of Gustav Klimt sit in packing crates.
To wake up the men there are three not terribly convincing action sequences at the beginning, middle and end of the movie in which Tuck and FDR go after an international arms dealer (Til Schweiger).
In Witherspoon’s last modern-dress love triangle, James L. Brooks’ “How Do You Know,” she was torn between a baseball-playing bad boy played by Owen Wilson and a disgraced businessman played by Paul Rudd.
“This Means War” is a comedown from even that lukewarm mess: from the once-lionized Brooks to action hack McG, from Wilson and Rudd to bland Pine (Captain Kirk in J. J. Abrams’ rebooted “Star Trek”) and edgy Hardy. (This offbeat British up-and-comer will be going up against Christian Bale as the skull-crushing Bane in July’s conclusion to the “Dark Knight” trilogy; he deserves better than getting shot in the crotch with a paintball gun.)
Handler, as a desperate housewife swigging vodka out of a sippy cup, makes an unlikely best friend for wholesome Lauren. Her stand-up persona has been grafted onto the movie like a festering herpes sore; while Lauren sits in rapt attention, Handler drones on and on about her unfulfilling sex life. But it’s FDR who says what the audience is thinking: “Why does she listen to that old man?”
That’s the only good laugh in this date movie made by committee, which is guaranteed to sour even the most amorous couple’s night.