Friday Flicks: Can This Means War Win Over Both Sexes?

Grab some popcorn! TIME's Glen Levy brings you the movies you should check out (or avoid) this weekend.

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This Means War

Tagline: It’s Spy Against Spy.

Consider: The world’s deadliest CIA operatives are both inseparable partners and best friends. What could alter that devastating dynamic?  Falling for the same woman, of course! So instead of bringing down enemy nations, Chris Pine and Tom Hardy are going to pit their skills and gadgets against each other, all to win over Reese Witherspoon.

And there’s arguably only one man who could direct such a venture while keeping a straight face and that’s McG, who did such blockbuster business with the 2000 reboot of Charlie’s Angels that he’s been pretty much been able to pick and choose his projects ever since he got Drew, Cameron and Lucy to strut their stuff.

Without doubt, there are more negative notices than positive ones with his latest movie. Roger Ebert said “If there’s anything I hate more than a stupid action comedy, it’s an incompetent stupid action comedy,” whereas Todd McCarthy at The Hollywood Reporter somehow went one step further by claiming “This perfectly dreadful romantic action comedy manages to embarrass its three eminently attractive leading players in every scene, making this an automatic candidate for whatever raspberries or golden turkeys or other dubious awards may be given.”

But there is some love for This Means War and it seems to come from reviewers of the fairer sex. Betsy Sharkey at the Los Angeles Times wrote, “If you can get past the gross invasion of privacy issues that would exist if this were real life and not just a frothy confection, what you have is some bittersweet fun peppered by bursts of sharp patter, the best between the boys.” And Lisa Schwarzbaum at TIME’s sister magazine Entertainment Weekly eventually comes clean: “And yet, and yet … I confess I enjoyed everything that’s all over the place about the finished product.”

LIST: McG in TIME’s Top 10 Music-Video Directors Who Now Direct Movies

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Tagline: He Rides Again.

Heeeee’s back. Everybody’s favorite leading man, Nicolas Cage, returns as Johnny Blaze in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, which was a sequel you didn’t even know you needed until Sony did the decent thing and offered it to the world. And if we believe the press notes – and why on earth shouldn’t we? – “in this gritty new vision for the character, Johnny is still struggling with his curse as the devil’s bounty hunter — but he may risk everything as he teams up with the leader of a group of rebel monks (Idris Elba) to save a young boy from the devil… and possibly rid himself of his curse forever.” We don’t know about you, but it all seems a long way from accepting an Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas.

That said, Johnny Blaze sounds like the kind of name that would go down a storm on the Vegas Boulevard.  But if you want to out-do a name such as Blaze, call yourself The Devil, which is what Ciaran Hinds’ character clearly did. And he wants to take over his mortal son’s body on the child’s birthday! Is it possible to have any more fun in a movie theatre?

And if those pesky critics could play ball, we’d surely be looking at next year’s Oscar front runner. But for some strange reason, it’s not been screened for them (loyal readers will be used to this taking place every now and again). Sony Pictures presumably have their own reasons for doing this – though we’ll take a wild punt and guess that we’re not dealing with the new Citizen Kane.

LIST:See Nicolas Cage in the Top 10 Wacky Celebrity Baby Names

Thin Ice

Even though we shouldn’t enjoy the plot of Thin Ice, how could we not? Greg Kinnear as an insurance salesman who considers himself a bit of a con artist, trying to put one over on a retired farmer (played by Alan Arkin) out of a violin that could be worth $25,000? In short: think Fargo, but maybe not quite as cold.

Oddly, the director Jill Sprecher might be feeling slightly frigid about the finished project as Thin Ice has been tweaked from her originally named Sundance-debut, The Convincer, and had some cuts forced upon it as well as having to rescore the movie. But rest assured, Jill: the critics have acted with warmth. “Enjoyably fuses cleverness and sheer desperation,” concludes EW. “The plot does fold together with the kind of cruel logic that these sorts of twist-a-thons often lack,” notes The AV Club. “Working the long con and damn near getting away with it … makes for a surprisingly entertaining and nonderivative February time-passer, its wretched mid-winter Wisconsin setting notwithstanding,” writes The Village Voice. Overlook the references to the weather (and we’re as guilty as anyone) and it sounds like you shouldn’t overlook Thin Ice.

MORE: TIME’s Top 10 Movies of 2011

NewsFeed’s Flicks Pick:  You can’t skate on war or a Ghost Rider, but you can when it comes to Thin Ice, which is this week’s choice (though we do have a soft spot for McG).

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