Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 5, 2017)
A cop flick with a darkly comedic side, 2017’s War on Everyone takes us to Albuquerque, where we meet two local cops. Detectives Terry Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård) and Bob Bolaño (Michael Pena) use their position of power to enrich themselves via various methods of blackmail.
The detectives’ corrupt ways come back to haunt them when they pick the wrong target. Terry and Bob attempt to extort strip club Russell Birdwell (Caleb Landry-Jones) and his drug-abusing boss "Lord" James Mangan (Theo James). This leads the cops down tricky paths that don’t go as planned.
The opening shot of War features a mime who runs from the police. Any movie that launches with a close-up of a fleeing mime declares its quirky intentions from minute one, so we know to expect wacky hijinks from it.
“Quirky” becomes a good word to describe War, as does “self-conscious”. The film goes down a fetishistic path that makes it a knowing tribute to/parody of 1970s cop flicks, with an emphasis on intentional cliché.
Whereas 2016’s Nice Guys offered a clearer “throwback” flick, War filters its 1970s ambitions through the lens of the 1990s. When its characters watch 1998’s Out of Sight, we get a self-aware nod to this film’s influences, as War partially embraces the glib, stylized side of the Soderbergh palette.
Probably a bigger influence comes from Quentin Tarantino, as War shows us that writer/director John Michael McDonagh must use him as an influence. The dialogue in War goes down a clear Tarantino-esque path, which means the lines always seem “written” and not realistic.
Tarantino and a few others can pull off this form of stylized speech, but the techniques work less well in McDonagh’s hands. As hard as he tries to deliver punchy, witty lines, the end result lacks the desired bite.
That said, McDonagh pulls off the 90s throwback better than most, and he manages to create a fairly involving movie, even if War lacks what I’d call a coherent plot. Sure, I gave a synopsis that implied a certain “A to B” path, and technically, War follows that route, but it takes a windy road to get there.
A long and windy road, as Paul McCartney might say, and not one that leads anywhere in particular. McDonagh clearly intends War to both embrace and spoof 70s crime flicks, and this means the movie favors random nods in that direction over logic.
War definitely exists as a parody of “buddy cop” movies, though not an overt one. It takes a while to realize McDonagh’s intentions, as he keeps things subdued enough to semi-camouflage the mockery, albeit in the film’s idiosyncratic manner.
This factor leaves War as a better Tarantino/Soderbergh “homage” than most, and one that someone manages to overcome its various flaws. Given its rambling, largely incoherent narrative and self-conscious armful of influences, the film really should flop and become insufferable.
But it doesn’t, so while War never turns into a particularly strong film, it still manages to create a pleasurable enough experience. It offers a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts, so even with its ups and downs, it does okay for itself.