This Means War is a romantic comedy structured around a love triangle, and is more than faintly reminiscent of a another movie, Design for Living, that just came out on Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection. The conflict is strikingly similar: A beautiful woman falls in love with two handsome fellas. The men try to be gentlemanly about this, taking a “let the best man win” point of view, and agree not to let her decision affect their friendship. The woman ends up “sampling” both men.
In one movie, the lady decides which one to spend the rest of her life with, sending the other away to reunite with another woman. In the other, the film ends with the three beautiful people deciding to set up housekeeping together.
Guess which one was made in 1933, and which one opened last week?
The retrograde sexual mores of course tag the brand-new This Means War as the movie with the monogamous ending. (Well, that and the explosions.) As is the case with most romcoms, a bright, promising beginning with three appealing stars—Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine and Tom Hardy—gives way to conventional dullness and predictable situations. It doesn’t help that the filmmakers are only going through the motions on the perfunctory action sequences.
If you think it’s unfair to compare a conventional romcom with a canonical classic, This Means War director McG raised the issue himself by including a clip from Design for Living director Ernst Lubitsch’s Heaven Can Wait in a key video store scene. (If you know Heaven Can Wait, the clip gives away which dude Witherspoon will end up choosing.) Free filmmaking advice: Never include a clip from a movie that’s better than the one you’re making.