I think the real problem with This Means War is that I know it’s terrible, but I still can’t resist the outrageous levels of charm exuded by its three stars (Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, Reese Witherspoon).

The strength to this glossy piece of tat (and it is, and I know it is – it’s a McG movie, for crying out loud) is the rapport between Hardy and Pine. The buddy bromance and rat-a-tat gag trades are irresistible. At least if you’ve got a weakness for big shoulders. I remember saying when Star Trek came out that I had no idea who Pine was and I couldn’t understand why I was supposed to find him attractive. I’ve had to revise that – I still don’t go for his looks, but there’s no denying the charisma. I find him endlessly watchable, and if FDR is basically a lower-class CIA re-run of Kirk, that just makes this good filler until JJ delivers a second instalment  And Hardy is – as ever – a joy (and no, he’s still not handsome either, he’s just hot as hell).

Yes, it’s cynical and yes, it’s creepy – the cameras planted in her home; the stalking analysis of entire life; the carefully-orchestrated dates that play to her preferences – the poor girl never stands a chance as each spook makes himself the perfect suitor. And yes, some of it grates – the rescue shelter; the paintballing – but there’s flashes of greatness as the CIA covert arsenal comes into play in earnest (the surveillance cameras that let the competitors watch – and interfere with – each other’s efforts) and the bromance descends into open war.

Thankfully, some of the more painful scenes (such as Witherspoon meeting Hardy’s supposed family) never made it to the cinematic release, although this also means we lost the rather more interesting segue that turns the scenes in which she meets his son entirely on their head.

I’ve seen numerous comments that it’s impossible to believe in Lauren (Witherspoon). After all, anyone that successful, clever and witty couldn’t possibly also be indecisive, insecure, or single. Clearly these reviewers haven’t met many career women in their 30s. In contrast, my main issue is with her choice in footwear, and I know that’s more about me and my sense of balance than about what actually constitutes a sensible heel height.

….except that that’s not quite true. Anyone who has read the premise (2 spy buddies fall for the same woman, and “go to war” to win her) can’t really complain about Lauren’s scripted inability to make a choice between the playboy with the emotional range of a teaspoon and the soulful, charming Brit with the amazing biceps. Nonetheless, after her immediate (and inevitable) positive response to Hardy’s Tuck, it feels out of character that she entertains Pine’s FDR – even with the excuse of the surprise appearance of a recent ex-boyfriend to force her hand. But it does provide an excuse for half an hour of shiny fun.

Sadly, nothing shines brightly enough to entirely covers the flaws. The timing is off – not from the stars, who are pitch perfect in delivery, but from the director. Shot and scene length; story development (wait, I said development; this is a McG movie – I see my error already); inconsistency of tone – nothing is quite right. In most respects, too much is jammed in, leaving nothing with room to breathe. In others, there’s not enough – FDR, for example. We’re told about his hidden depths and buried trauma; we can’t see it beneath the slick shiny spy exterior. We’re required to root for him to be rescued from himself and given a chance to settle into something meaningful, with very little indication that he’s anything more than a manipulative asshat.

The final act descends into the depths of ludicrous that McG inhabits as his natural territory. The villain who has been invisible since the opening sequence returns to kidnap the girl and reveal the spies for what they are. After the world’s briefest and least satisfying action climax, the only possible ending that could work at this point was shot, but ended up on the cutting room floor – bromance can only go so far and remain acceptable in middle America, after all. Instead, we get what worked for test audiences, unsatisfying as that may be.

I may still have to own a copy of this for night’s the boy is working late. Shiny.