150 Movies in 90 Days: This Means War and Monsters University

July 8: #33, This Means War

"You've seen it in Bangladesh...you know that's not true!"

I've got a fairly well-documented man-crush on Tom Hardy, who is one of the more underrated actors out there. Therefore, I've been watching movies featuring Hardy whenever I get the chance (check out Bronson to see Hardy really stealing the show), although I hadn't gotten the opportunity to watch This Means War until, well, yesterday.

Part of the reason I didn't make an opportunity to watch it is that I thought it might be kind of a turd. Even yesterday, I wasn't very excited to see it. I figured it'd be a pretty uninspiring rom-com/action mashup made in a contrived attempt to attract the ladies (for the romantic parts) and the guys (for the action stuff) at the same time.

Well, I was kind of right. But there are times when This Means War rises above those expectations.

Those times don't include the opening of the film, which starts with a fairly bland action sequence to establish the movie's two CIA operatives, Tuck (Hardy) and FDR (Chris Pine), followed by some banter between Lauren (Reese Witherspoon), and her beyond annoying best friend, Trish (Chelsea Handler).

Early, on, the script is very flat, especially when the dialogue between Lauren and Trish is obviously supposed to be witty. It doesn't help that Chelsea Handler is not only an awful human being, but a terrible actress. Her character (and her acting) are obviously supposed to be a blatant ripoff of Samantha Jones from Sex and the City, but she doesn't have the chops to pull it off.

So anyway, through strange but believable circumstances, the two guys end up hitting it off Lauren. At that point, rather than singing a song about the hilarious, yet troubling circumstances of the situation, they decide that they will both continue to date her and the best man will win. And there's your set-up: two highly successful CIA operatives (FDR has a pool in his ceiling) fighting over a woman who looks like a gremlin.

You know it's true.
From then on, things actually pick up a bit. There are hilariously inappropriate uses of government resources as the two spy on one another and try to undermine each other's attempts to win Lauren over. There's the obligatory friend fight, which is pretty entertaining. There are some funny scenes, including one where the two men watch a secret video feed of Lauren and Trish as they discuss the pros and cons of choosing either guy. Then, there's a pretty awesome paintball scene which is not only funny, but represents the best action sequence in the movie.

The chemistry between Pine and Hardy is very good, and watching them banter (or bicker) is a good time. However, the part of the film where they finally start actively sabotaging one another doesn't last long enough, instead getting swept aside so that we can get into a subplot about a terrorist they are after, followed by a lazy resolution. This is still a likeable film, but it almost enters guilty pleasure territory, really. I docked it some points because Chelsea Handler, too. Grade: C+

July 8: #34, Monsters University 

I guess all of the scary professors lost their jobs when monsters learned that laughs worked better than screams?

I was cautiously optimistic about this one. I am pretty much a Pixar fanboy, but it's hard to ignore the fact that they've lost a bit off of their fastball in recent years. Brave was pretty good, but certainly not great, and Cars 2, which I ended up liking more with subsequent viewings, still didn't measure up to their other work and made me think this sequel might be short of the greatness we usually expect from the studio.

Monsters Inc. was great in part because it took an absolutely ingenious concept and rode it for all it was worth. The idea of "monsters in the closet" actually being real and using magic doors that transport them into kids' rooms to elicit screams that are essentially natural resources in the monsters' world is brilliant. However, the fact that Monsters University is a prequel and not a sequel means that that same imagination is not found here. Instead, we see monsters at college, learning to scare (although the lesser monsters take courses in door construction and so on), which gives the movie plenty of humorous setups for easy laughs, but doesn't give us the imaginative ideas that we expect from Pixar.

The film actually avoids being predictable, even if it means that at the end (don't worry, I won't spoil anything) some quick work has to be done to build a bridge from this film to Monsters Inc. The animation, as usual, is outstanding and a joy to behold. I still believe that nobody does animation quite like Pixar, even if other studios have made films with better scripts or more laughs in the last few years.

Ultimately, your thoughts on Monsters University will depend a lot on how much you liked the previous film. If you loved Monsters Inc., you will be glad just to see Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan again, even if the prequel doesn't quite reach the heights of its predecessor. If you weren't much of a fan of Monsters Inc., this movie won't change your mind. Grade: B

1 comment:

  1. I liked "This Means War" in spite of the romantic comedy/Reese Witherspoon aspect. The chemistry between Hardy and Pine is definitely great (Something about those Star Trek combos lol) and I wish it would have just been a buddy cop action movie instead.