War on EveryoneReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 02/27/17 12:28:19
John Michael McDonagh has made a couple of downright terrific films in "The Guard" and "Calvary", and "War on Everyone" simply being pretty decent is enough to get one speculating as to whether he was being propped up by Brendan Gleeson or felt lost when the setting moved from Ireland to America. That, I think, is unfair; he’s made a funny movie, even if people don’t necessarily expect this particular sort of sharp wit in an American buddy cop thing.The buddies are fun, though, with Alexander Skarsgard playing Terry, the kind of meatheaded one, and Michael Pena the wiseass Bob, both gleefully corrupt cops in Albuquerque who don’t particularly hide that they’re shaking people down and tell their captain (Paul Reiser) to lighten up about the bills for equipment and other property damage their methods lead to; it’s working out, right? That is, until Terry becomes more smitten than usual with call girl Jackie Hollis (Tessa Thompson) and that leads to butting heads with Lord James Mangan (Theo James), a businessman dipping a toe into the drug trade who is much more formidable than the street criminals they’re used to intimidating. But is Mangan or any of his crew actually that much smarter?
Well, no, and not that much more creative; villain roles in this sort of movie tend to be forgettable, because they’re running on the chemistry of the leads more than the actual plot. Eventually, things can’t help but seem a little rudderless - Terry and Bob are making a half-hearted attempt to keep their noses clean, Mangan is doing bad things but not uniquely threatening ones, and Jackie is getting caught in the middle, with Terry dragging her into the mess as much as vice versa. This sort of generic plot really has nowhere to climax except in terms of being more violent, so the bits where things start to come together in the end is mean and unpleasant without the zippy back and forth that makes it fun.
Fortunately, there’s a lot of zing to be found; though the villains may not be much, the main pair work each other well. Though second-billed, Michael Pena is the one who gets all the fun lines, the sarcastic brains of the operation who can jump from fretting over what a mess they’ve made to barbed cynicism in a second. Skarsgard’s Terry seems a simpler soul; he’s probably risen to detective on Bob’s coattails but he’s good in a scrap and enjoys it, but they’ve both got the feel of guys whose greed doesn’t go quite so far as taking from people who don’t have it coming, as well as genuine affection for each other. David Wilmot and Malcolm Barrett make a similarly entertaining pair of mismatched informants, while Stephanie Sigman gets to play a refreshingly self-aware take on the corrupt cop’s wife, giving as good as she gets while still seeming grounded. Tessa Thompson is sharp enough to keep Jackie from just being a plot device, and Paul Reiser (whom I didn’t recognize because, even after Whiplash, he’s still a skinny guy in my head) does the frustrated captain well.
McDonagh gives them a lot of good one-liners and banter to toss back and forth - he’s got a playwright’s ear for that sort of thing - although the sheer amount has to make up for a fair number that are only kind of amusing. He kind of plays the action of the movie in the same heightened way. When cars slam into each other, truly excessive amounts of bullets fly, and locations get smashed to shreds, it feels less like gratuitous violence than the exaggerated action equivalent of theatrical language. It’s not spectacularly choreographed action, but it’s decent physical comedy.There are times when the elements in "War on Everyone" just don’t mix - melding the cynicism of an Irish crime indie with its assumed corruption with the goofy excess of an American buddy cop flick is maybe not quite so natural as it may seem. It’s fun more often than not, though, as is generally going to happen when you give McDonagh a scene-stealer as good as Michael Pena to work with.
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