Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Stylish And Stupid: War On Everyone Does Not Quite Live Up!

The Good: Decent performances, Good direction
The Bad: Mediocre characters, Not overly funny, Blase plot
The Basics: War On Everyone follows two corrupt cops on their criminal venture to rip off a major crime ring.

Every now and then, there is a film where the basic plot summary completely sells me on the idea. The concept of a comedy with Alexander Skarsgard where he plays a corrupt cop who is blackmailing criminals sounds like a potential winner to me. The film is War On Everyone and it continues the trend of crime-themed comedies, like Observe And Report (reviewed here!). While violent, as this style of movie tends to be, it is not so graphic that it guts the humor when the film goes for laughs.

Unfortunately, War On Everyone plays for an unfortunately low sense of humor in a caper comedy that could have been much better. Having a corrupt cop criticizing the spelling on a homeless kid's begging sign is actually fairly funny, but it comes on the heels of homophobic, transphobic musings and jokes that play off a particularly flat joke making fun of a bald jockey. The result is an unfortunately inconsistent film that never quite lands.

Opening with Terry and Bob running down a mime who is involved with a robbery, Terry and Bob are revealed to be police officers and partners. Neither, however, are upstanding citizens - Terry drives drunk and is constantly scratching because he has thrush, Bob assaulted a fellow officer following a racist comment by a fellow cop and swears at his children. The two return to the Albuquerque Police Department following their suspension and go back on the street where they snort some cocaine with a snitch whom they want to help them rip off a major crime ring.

Terry and Bob begin a search for the crime boss, Reynard, who is at the center of the impending caper. To that end, they visit a strip club, rip off a petty criminal, and start executing criminals who are working for the elusive crime boss Lord James Mangan. When Reggie flees town after the pair rough up a suspect, Terry and Bob head from New Mexico to Iceland to try to get the million dollars they think Reggie took with him. There, they learn about Mangan and they return to New Mexico to learn there are new charges pending against them and they begin the search for Mangan in Albuquerque. After Terry takes in the son of a suspect who killed her own husband, he is abducted by Mangan's men and when an attempt is made on Bob's life, the pair realize they might be in over their heads.

War On Everyone never quite settles on committing to being funny, which is unfortunate because the film gets high marks for style. The musical selections, the film's direction, sets and set dressings are pretty well-executed and they pair nicely with lines that allude to the fact that Terry and Bob have a lot of knowledge outside their expertise on how to get away with everything short of murder. Terry knows a lot about music, Bob makes references to Steven Soderberg, writer and director John Michael McDonagh clearly tried to prevent the protagonists from being flat, monolithically bad people.

But the problem with writing antiheroes and corrupt characters for protagonists is that there has to be something likable about them and neither Terry, nor James ever get there. The film's attempts to use racism for humor does not quite land - save the joke about Reggie being exceptionally easy to find in Iceland because he's a black man in Iceland. McDonagh seems to try to balance that by having Terry having sex with a black woman, but the humor surrounding dialogue about different ethnicities is played as too angry to be ever truly funny.

One of the high points of War On Everyone is seeing Malcolm Barrett in the role of Reggie. Barrett performs Reggie without any of the off-putting humor that made him hilarious as Lem in Better Off Ted (Season 1 reviewed here!). In War On Everyone, Barrett is physically wired and he plays the role with an energy that is palpable and engaging to watch; he steals every scene he is in.

War On Everyone is led by Alexander Skarsgard and Michael Pena. Skarsgard, obviously, has the physical performance for playing a violent cop down perfectly from his time on True Blood (reviewed here!) and Michael Pena continues to deliver his perfect sense of comic timing for his lines as Bob. But neither Skarsgard, nor Pena are able to make their characters remotely likable and as hard as it is to imagine, the scenes they share with Paul Reiser (the police chief in the film) lead to them being overshadowed by the veteran comic. That said, Pena and Skarsgard play off one another masterfully for their banter, especially in the scenes where their characters are being called on the carpet by Reiser's Stanton.

The death knell of War On Everyone comes subtly, in the middle of the film. Around the middle of the film, I consciously realized that I did not care at all about how the movie would be resolved. The lack of ability to invest in the characters, the situation or even the bizarre caper they find themselves embroiled in makes War On Everyone more of a flop than a success and a film that is impossible to recommend.

For other movies currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
Underworld: Blood Wars
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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