Another week, another showing at the ODEON Screen Unseen – this time, it was a picture called War on Everyone that I was completely unfamiliar with. I sat through the film, and as the credits started to roll, I had no idea what I made of it – it was such a baffling and uneven ride than I wasn’t sure what I thought. That’s War on Everyone – it’s a very hit-and-miss film, and it tends far too much towards the latter.
Terry Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård) and Bob Bolaño (Michael Peña) are two best friends and corrupt cops who enjoy exploiting their power, making money blackmailing criminals and skirting the grey area between legal and illegal as they go about their business. Investigations into a case lead them to a criminal who is far more dangerous than both of them – crossing his path makes them targets, and they must decide to stop him, possibly at the cost of their own lives.
Normally, when I review a film, I write a little synopsis of what the film was about so you (yes, you, dear reader) can get a sense of what the film was about – I really struggled here, though, as the plot is pretty non-existent. There is a general running theme throughout – there seems to be a case at its heart, although how we get from scene to scene is never particularly clear at any point (at one point, we randomly leap from America to Iceland, because why not?). Frankly, War on Everyone is more a collection of scenes than seem like they should make a story rather than a well-structured story, and it doesn’t really work. It’s not difficult to watch this and not have the faintest clue what’s going on, but that shouldn’t be because the film itself doesn’t seem to know.
With a comedy, however, the script is really not the most important point – all that really matters are the jokes. There are enough laughs here to justify it (although mostly ethnic and crude humour – steer clear if you aren’t a fan of that), although there are certain points when you see the movie is trying too hard for a gag it doesn’t deliver. Just being offensive randomly and tossing in a non-sequitur isn’t the same thing as writing a joke.
In all the daftness, we don’t even have a particularly good buddy duo to anchor it. Peña is the undisputed standout here (he shares a gift with writer-director John Michael McDonagh’s usual collaborator Brendan Gleeson in that he can deliver the preachy philosophical stuff as naturally as the fun lines), but his performance can do little to lift the movie. Skarsgård is underwritten and does less than he’s given – his character essentially consists of the fact he likes Glen Campbell songs and an uncomfortable looking walk. For a buddy cop film to work, you need to feel something towards one of them, rather than the dull ambivalence the movie hits.
Worse still are the villains – Caleb Landry Jones is a foppish bad guy who quickly becomes annoying, and Theo James is a British guy who never seems scary or intimidating. Fear not, however, as the script employs the old device of (out of nowhere) making the villains when stuff needs to get serious, in a moral twist that comes in far too late and far too out-of-late-field to make any impact. It’s annoying when we have good actors like Tessa Thompson being squandered on work that doesn’t serve them at all.
According to the Screen Unseen website, it’s the first chance to see ‘future classics’ – War on Everyone does certainly not fit that description. There are good aspects to the movie, and the viewer will probably enjoy it if it suits their humour sensibilities, but it’s simply not very good – it’s poorly scripted and lacks any interesting characters, and that boils down to one big mess.
Director: John Michael McDonagh
Cast: Alexander Skarsgård (Terry Monroe), Theo James (Lord James Mangan), Stephanie Sigman (Delores), Tessa Thompson (Jackie Hollis), Michael Peña (Bob Bolaño), Paul Reiser (Lt. Gerry Stanton)
Running Time: 98 Mins
Image credit: http://www.theperfectman.me/new-trailer-war-on-everyone/