by Jay Seaver
There is little more dispiriting than watching a bad movie after the cast has gotten one's hope up. Sure, Jason Statham has had a knack for choosing crap and Jet Li's American career has been less than impressive, but the opening credits throw John Lone, Luis Guzman, Ryo Ishibashi, and more at you in rapid succession. Sure, any one of them could just be picking up a paycheck, but can all of them be slumming?
Yes. Yes, they can.It takes a while for Jet Li to show his face; the opening segment has FBI Agents Jack Crawford (Statham) and Tom Lone (Terry Chen) hunting down an ex-CIA assassin (known only as "Rogue") now working for a yakuza family. It looks like they kill him, but no body is found, which means that soon he's going to be back for revenge. He kills Lone and his family, Crawford becomes obsessed. Three years later, he's back in San Francisco, now working for Chang (John Lone), whose triad is at war with that yakuza family. Rather than dealing drugs, though, they seem to be vying for possession of an antique horse as a matter of honor. As the fighting escalates, it's clear that Rogue, who changes his face every six months and now looks like Jet Li, is up to more trouble than just being an assassin.
"Boring, the worst thing a movie can be."
The backstory is complicated and deeply stupid, which is a dangerous combination. An action movie can be stupid if it delivers the action, but it's better if it's stupid and simple. In that case, the filmmakers and the audience have an understanding - they'll do just enough to tie the action scenes together, and we'll ignore what doesn't work so well. As soon as you start to make things complicated, though, you've got the audience paying attention, maybe even trying to play along, and getting frustrated by the silliness of it all - especially when the red herrings turn out to be more interesting than the actual plot twists. The film also has entirely too many characters that the audience doesn't care about - we're here for Statham and Li fighting, and everyone else had better be fighting with them or getting the hell out of the way.
This leads to one of the film's biggest, most obvious problems: Jet Li barely fights anybody. Sure, Li's got a few more miles on his body and isn't doing wuxia films any more, but Jet Li with a gun is no more exciting than any other guy with a gun. Statham isn't in Li's category as a martial artist, but he's not bad, either, and yet there are few if any memorable fight scenes until about two thirds of the way through the movie, when Rogue and yakuza boss Shiro (Ryo Ishibashi) draw swords on each other. There are a couple acceptable chase scenes and shootouts, but the final confrontation between Rogue and Crawford is fairly bland (and it doesn't help that the script has sucked the excitement out of it with revelations that leave the audience ambivalent).
The biggest pity is that it's not even entertainingly bad. Music video director Philip Atwell is competent enough, and his cast is generally talented people. John Lone is actually kind of good in this, and it's always a pleasure to see Ishibashi (who starred in Audition, The Grudge, Suicide Club, and Big Bang Love, among others). Li and Statham are on cruise control, though, as are Andrea Roth, Luis Guzman, and Saul Rubinek. Devon Aoki is a pretty block of wood.I've probably seen a lot of films that were less competently made that I've enjoyed more. But the one thing an action movie should never be is boring, and "War" only briefly manages to be something else.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=16537&reviewer=371
originally posted: 09/12/07 12:01:12