Has there ever in the history of mainstream cinema been a more irritating director than McG?
True, there have been annoying filmmakers in the past who have sustained prolific directorial careers – Michael Winner anyone?
However McG has excelled in producing brash, leave your brain at home popcorn movies that are not so much a disappointment but rather something to be avoided like speed cameras or the plague.
As you can tell, this review is going to play the man as well as the ball but, let’s face it, anyone who runs around calling themselves by the initials of their mother’s maiden name is just asking for a Vinny Jones tackle.
Joseph McGinty Nichol, to use his real name, graduated from making around 50 pop videos (including Basement Jaxx’s ‘Where’s Your Head At’) to making movies when Drew Barrymore, clearly in a moment of insanity, recommended him to the producers of the cinema version of ‘Charlie’s Angels’.
The movie, also featuring Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu and Bill Murray, was a huge international box office smash, taking in about $250 million worldwide despite some rather iffy reviews.
The Chicago Sun Times’ Roger Ebert memorably described ‘Charlie’s Angels’ as “eye candy for the blind” but I doubt McGinty Nichol (from now on, I refuse to call him McG) cared about the critical mauling.
He was only interested in one market – pre-pubescent teenagers who wanted, as Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers observed, a “babelicious movie” (yeah, I’m wincing too at this description).
After narrowly missing out on a chance to undermine the Superman franchise, McGinty Nichol was back behind the camera for a sequel ‘Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle’ with Bernie Mac replacing Bill Murray and Demi Moore featuring as the villain.
By this stage, he had alienated Travers so much that he claimed the film was akin to being “pummelled for two hours with a feather duster”. Ebert, meanwhile, was clearly in a state of disorientation when he claimed it was “arbitrary and senseless fiction” but harmless fun.
McGinty Nichol now had a tried and tested formula – send actors out to run around film sets with guns, throw in lots of slow mo explosions, car chases, plenty of bombastic rock/rap/dance music, a bit of mild titliation and of course, wiseass quips and hey presto, a guaranteed pre-pubescent hit!
Around the same time, he was establishing himself as a force in US television – executive producing the teen series ‘The O.C.’ ‘Supernatural’ and later, ‘Chuck’.
An attempt to stretch himself with the turgid American football drama ‘We are Marshall’ met with critical and commercial indifference and so he was back on more familiar cinematic ground with the fourth film in the ‘Terminator’ series minus Governor Schwarzenegger.
It says a lot about ‘Terminator: Salvation’ that it is probably best remembered for a Christian Bale rant on the set at a crew member which was leaked online than for the movie itself.
And now, he’s back with ‘This Means War’ – another strutting, preening, gun fest for pimply youths starring Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine and Tom Hardy.
As you can no doubt detect, this is a thoroughly dispiriting affair. Hardy stars as Tucker, a James Bond style agent, and Pine is FDR, a Jason Bourne style agent, who are best mates and gung ho CIA operatives. Presumably Pine is the espionage world’s equivalent of McGinty Nichol because he runs around with a set of initials for a name.
The two of them are posing in a Hong Kong party when they intercept a nasty Eastern European villain Heinrich (Til Scweiger) who shoots a lot of people while stealing something that is in a suitcase (yawn!) and which is apparently awfully important.
In the resultant rooftop brawl and shoot out, Heinrich’s brother falls to his death but Heinrich jumps from the building with a parachute but without the swag.
Cue angry CIA boss, Collins (Angela Bassett in shouty mode, going through the motions) who grounds Tucker and FDR for leaving a trail of destruction in their wake.
The movie then lurches into a creepy romantic comedy as consumer analyst Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) runs into an ex-boyfriend Steve (Warren Christie) and his perfect girlfriend and makes an absolute fool of herself.
To cut a long story short, on the advice of her foul mouthed married friend Trish (Chelsea Handler – yes, that’s her real name and not a description of Andres Villas Boas’s last job), she goes on a dating website where she meets Tucker. Moments after their first date, she runs into FDR in a nearby DVD store. She ends up two timing both guys.
Tucker and FDR discover they are both dating the same woman and this triggers an oh so hilarious series of set-pieces where they waste American taxpayers’ money by using the latest in espionage technology to spy on Lauren and undermine what the other is doing. Meanwhile Heinrich turns up in LA, hellbent on revenge.
‘This Means War’ is not just a bad movie. It is an appalling film which is so cynically constructed to appeal to various demographics that it has neither a shred of charm nor originality.
The direction gives laziness a bad name. It slavishly follows the riffs of other vacuous shoot ’em up comedies like ‘Mr and Mrs Smith’, ‘Knight and Day’ and ‘The Bounty Hunter’ and even manages to make them look good.
Even worse, it lacks humility. Much has already been said by critics about the jaw droppingly arrogant scene where FDR runs into Lauren for the first time and recommends she rents ‘The Lady Vanishes’ because “it’s got comedy, drama, romance, it’s a thriller – you can’t go wrong with it.”
Surely McGinty Nichol doesn’t have the chutzpah to compare his movie to Alfred Hitchcock’s? I’m afraid so.
But even if Hitchcock on a bad day had directed this, you can be sure he would not have sanctioned a script that consists of lame jokes about penises and women’s liberation. He also wouldn’t have resorted to annoying funk music a la ‘Seinfeld’ whose sole purpose is to tell us when to laugh.
If this is bad enough, McGinty Nichols also has the gall to recreate the scene in Martin Scorsese’s ‘Good Fellas’ when Henry Hill jumps the queue in a nightclub with his wife-to-be and is given the best seat in the house.
As for the performances, we’ve been here before with Witherspoon, an actress who seems to sleepwalk through romantic comedies but who showed us what she was capable of with her performance as June Carter Cash in ‘Walk the Line’ and in Alexander Payne’s acerbic high school comedy ‘Election’.
Chris Pine is extremely irritating as FDR while Til Schweiger is all scowl and no menace as Heinrich.
While it is disappointing to see an actress of Angela Bassett’s calibre reduced to the role of the female equivalent of Captain Dobey in ‘Starsky and Hutch’, the most worrying thing about the exercise is Tom Hardy.
What was he thinking? Having exploded onto the big screen with a chilling performance as the infamous English criminal Charles Bronson in Nicolas Winding’s brutal biopic ‘Bronson’ and cemented his reputation as an emerging talent in Christopher Nolan’s intelligent blockbuster ‘Inception’ and Gavin O’Connor’s ‘Warrior’, this is a dreadful waste of talent and effort.
It stands in marked contrast to his electric performance as a nervy MI6 agent in ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ and hopefully isn’t a sign of a career that promises much but could ultimately fail to deliver.
Hardy may want to show a lighter touch but getting shot in the crotch by Reese Witherspoon in a paintballing scene is hardly a comedic high for him or for those watching it.
Will ‘This Means War’ satisfy the McGinty Nichol pre-pubescent demographic? Not if the almost empty cinema where I saw it is anything to go by.
Two 12 year olds were so clearly bored out of their minds, they started sliding down the stair rail as the movie reached its over the top conclusion. It must be said that was more entertaining than anything on the big screen.
Joseph McGinty Nichol stands accused of making another brash movie with all the subtlety of a breeze block.
If there was a cinematic equivalent of the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, McGinty McNichol would be indicted for assaulting our senses with this drivel.