One of a mainstream movie’s highest aspirations is to straddle genres so effectively that men and women turn out in equally strong numbers. It’s also one of a mainstream movie's most difficult tricks.
This weekend’s “This Mean War” is the latest to try -- and struggle in the process. A romantic comedy action thriller (that’s also a love triangle), “War” looks at what happens when two CIA agents fall for, and pursue, the same woman. Directed by the action veteran McG ("Charlie's Angels, "Terminator Salvation”), it stars two up-and-comers in Tom Hardy and Chris Pine and one established star in Reese Witherspoon, which would seem to be a pretty good casting recipe.
But the movie has been tracking poorly and looks likely to finish the weekend in fourth place, according to Times box office guru Amy Kaufman, behind even two movies that opened last week ("The Vow" and "Safe House"). That’s a rare position for a new release (“Abduction,” the Taylor Lautner flop, had the dubious honor last fall, finishing fourth behind one new release and two holdovers). “War” hasn’t received much help from critics, either; only 40% of them have given it a positive review, according to the aggregation site Movie Review intelligence.
If the film disappoints, the postmortems will come thick and fast. Some will point to its director, who has proved successful at churning out hits, but only when working with established brands like "Terminator" and "Charlie's Angels." Others will note a marketing campaign that early on favored the action scenes and the two lesser-known male stars who populate them, and tilted only recently to the Witherspoon-y love themes.
“This Mean War” has a long development history -- it was actually set up at Fox all the way back in 1998, right around when the studio was releasing “Titanic” (the first time). Over the years the project drew some better-known male stars, at one point attaching Bradley Cooper. Different actors might have given this movie a higher profile. Maybe. Or maybe not. When a Hollywood studio tries to attract everyone, it can often end up with no one.
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Tom Hardy, left, and Chris Pine in "This Means War." Credit: 20th Century Fox