Dave's Rating:

2.5

Watch out, Gerard Butler...

I don't answer reader questions about a film before it opens. I say, "Wait for the review. I'm not giving this stuff away for free." Then that person apologizes for wasting my precious time and I resume my busy schedule of napping and watching The Jeremy Kyle Show. But this is Valentine's Day week and I'm feeling an extra amount of empathy.

So when Matthew Last Name Withheld found me on Facebook and said, "My wife wants to see this. Will I hate myself for agreeing to go? And is Tom Hardy going to turn into Gerard Butler and start acting in crappy rom-coms for a paycheck?" I made him wait because, as I said before, I'm really busy all the time. But the answer to those questions is both yes and no.

Yes, Tom Hardy will do whatever he has to do to make himself a household name. You don't get anywhere in the entertainment business if people just admire your work in indie films like Bronson or in under-appreciated mainstream movies like Warrior. You have to become known. The litmus test is this: if your mother doesn't know who they are then they aren't famous yet. Tom Hardy is not famous yet. So now he's in this movie making out with Reese Witherspoon and a lot more people are going to figure out that he exists.

And no, Matthew Last Name Withheld, you won't fully hate yourself for going to see this rom-com about two CIA secret agent men (Hardy and Chris Pine) who wind up dating the same woman (Witherspoon) without telling her, turning it into a contest of Deceptive Yet Gentlemanly Courtship. But you will wonder why the finished product takes so long to get moving, why the spy-vs-spy element isn't more inventive or physical, why they save all the cool car chases and explosions for the final 20 minutes and why Chelsea Handler -- giving off a deadpan irreverence you'll wish would have informed the entire project -- is the only person allowed to be funny in movie that calls itself a comedy.

You'll wonder about the mechanics of filmmaking by committee, about the kind of product that goes through a dozen script re-writes and studio notes and test screenings until all the demographic bells are rung enough times not to lose a segment of the desired audience. You'll wonder, if the most creative minds in Hollywood are getting paid a lot of money to do their best work, why the outcome isn't firing on all cylinders from start to finish. Because as it is, it's got enough action for the kind of man who thinks that Dr. Pepper Ten commercials really do speak for him and it's got enough weirdly insecure Reese Witherspoon antics to appeal to women who think that Reese Witherspoon is ever insecure in real life, and enough comedy to make Chelsea Handler fans happy, but not enough of any of those things to really make you remember why you decided to watch it in the first place.

The truth? If you're after something with a romantic plot then just go see The Vow. Aside from a pretty amazing shot of Rachel McAdams head-torpedo-ing through a car windshield, there's no action. And nobody laughs. But at least it's a movie that knows what it is.

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