Two secret agents compete for Reese Witherspoon in ‘This Means War’

IN "THIS Means War," two secret agents use their spy-craft to compete for a perky blonde.

Sounds like a classic Hollywood screwball comedy setup. Throw in attractive stars Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, flip a few SUVs, and what could go wrong?

Well, you could hire a director like McG, who made his reputation, such as it is, with the "Charlie's Angels" movies, then tried making movies about actual human beings with "We Are Marshall."

That turned out to be phenomenally unprofitable, so he's back in "Angel's" mode here - candy-colored, light show set to pounding, ceaseless house music.

Watching "This Means War" is like have someone on Ecstasy describe a movie to you in the middle of a rave. It's a date movie if you're dating someone you don't like.

Witherspoon stars as career-minded professional with a sparse love life who goes online for a date and ends up pursued by a hotshot superspy ladies' man (Pine) and his secret agent best friend (Hardy), who represents the domesticated single-dad squareball alternative.

She can't decide, turns to foulmouthed best friend (Chelsea Handler) for advice, and so ends up involved in things like a "sex tie breaker."

McG is the guy you want to hire, I guess, for a facetious reboot of an airhead '70s TV show like "Angels." But in a comedy with the potentially classic dimensions of "This Means War," you want someone who pays attention to the characters, to how they relate.

To McG, a character is someone in the foreground of a helicopter stunt. His idea of a joke is to have a women in a bikini swim by in a ceiling lap pool.

The stars, in modern comedy fashion, get laughs by enduring one form of humiliation or another - caught awkwardly dancing to "This Is How We Do It," hit with a tranquilizer dart, shot in the groin with a paintball gun.

Under these conditions, only Handler survives, her lack of dignity intact.

This Means War

Directed by McG. With Til Schweiger, Reese Witherspoon, Tom Hardy, David Koechner, Angela Bassett, Chelsea Handler, Chris Pine, Laura Vandervoort. Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox.

Running time: 2 hours, 0 minutes.

Parent's guide: PG-13 (for sexual content including references, some violence and action, and for language).