America is a no-good boyfriend to the world: sexy, dangerous, and narcissistic. America’s enemies are the world’s less attractive friends. And the U.N. is, I guess, yo’ momma. This helps explain why the world is in the state it’s in. We all know America is crazy; a nation of gun-nuts with blood on its hands. But that loose cannon persona is hot. There’s no denying it. Sensible countries, like Canada, don’t set the heart racing. You could marry Canada, but America will always be the country that turns heads. The new movie, This Means War, only makes sense because it’s American. Romance and violence don’t mix so well in other nations. In America, they’re inseparable. This is why loving America is so likely to get you hurt.
At the start of the story, Reese Witherspoon meets two guys and can’t decide whom to date. One guy is slick; the other is sensitive. They both want her and they both look like they’d be a great night in the sack. Little does Reese know; they’re both spies. Or rather, they both work in fantasy espionage, the kind that’s more akin to James Bond than real life. The two men proceed to put Reese under surveillance, to use tax payer’s money to fund their lavish lifestyles, to do very little in the way of actual work, and to kill a lot of people, without any pang of conscience. In other words, they act like America. And Reese gets hot. The guy who reaches for his gun fastest isn’t an outlaw these days; he’s a good marriage prospect.
I wish I disapproved of this film. Unfortunately, I’m as bad as Reese when it comes to sexy disposable action. McG, the director of This Means War, is responsible for the majority of my guilty pleasures at the movies. He did Charlie’s Angels and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. And I bet he doesn’t regret doing either of them. He makes trash with a kind of innocent glee only usually found in Saturday morning cartoons. He was born to work in Hollywood. In the opening sequence of This Means War, a briefcase full of money explodes; showering dollar bills over a heli-pad that sits atop a sky-scraper. This is quintessential McG: setting fire to cash. Later, we learn that one of the spies has a swimming pool for a ceiling in his apartment. The other spy keeps motorcycles in his lounge. You’re not meant to take this seriously. Either you embrace it, or you wince.
It would take a lot more than This Means War to rattle Reese Witherspoon, I’d imagine. She is many things as an actress, but I wouldn’t describe her as fragile. Not unless I wanted my jaw reset. In this movie, you never doubt she could handle two macho boyfriends. If the exigencies of the rom-com didn’t require Reese to dither, she’d have ’em both doing her bidding before you could say “whipped”. She’s never going to be the girl who sits around listening to Moon River and waiting for a man to save her. She’s the kind of girl who sits in the Senate and practices writing POTUS (President of the United States) after her signature. You couldn’t find a whiter, blonder, more indomitable example of American womanhood.
Like the movie, Reese is popcorn made of steel. Watching This Means War is like being strapped to the deck of an aircraft carrier. You want to run, or protest for peace, but when you’re right there, drunk on adrenaline and male-ness and war-mongering; it’s your inner jock or cheerleader who calls the shots. Preposterousness is a turn-on. The bigger the explosion, the more impossible the escape, the more the audience gasps. Perhaps it makes sense, ultimately, that romantic comedy and the action genre should overlap, at least in the American imagination. They’re each about saying: the hell with the world, I want a man! Collateral damage doesn’t matter. So long as you’re not the one who’s dead, or single.
The world might think it’s above movies like this, but we were all sixteen once and This Means Waris sixteen for posterity. It’s crass alright, but it knows who looks cute. Tom Hardy is cast to show the word “charming” doesn’t preclude muscles. Chris Pine could act like a maverick in his sleep. The murky ethics of espionage are left to John Le Carré. And hearts and bones are broken to smithereens. For Reese Witherspoon, there’s no choice: she has to marry a maniac. The only options are: Maniac 1 or Maniac 2. In the same way the world gets into bed with America (reluctantly), so Reese accepts her fate. Better to be wedded to calamity, than to risk the alternative. No girl wants to be calamity’s bitch.