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War on Everyone - Review

War on Everyone

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

HAVING made such a strong impression with his first two films, The Guard and Calvary, writer-director John Michael McDonagh now travels to America for his first shot at something close to a mainstream offering.

Hence, the mis-matched, bad boy cop genre gets a hip spin courtesy of McDonagh’s way with words and his eye for something a little bit different. But while hugely entertaining in places, War on Everyone is a decidedly hit and miss affair that’s just as likely to offend as it is to exhilarate.

Alexander Skarsgård and Michael Peña are the cops in question, Terry and Bob. When first introduced, they’re in hot pursuit of a drug-dealing mime, complete with a soundtrack that belongs firmly in Starsky & Hutch ’70s territory. We should mention the mime is on foot, while Terry and Bob are in the former’s revved up car.

They close in, forcing the mime to give up. But rather than make a routine arrest, they run down the mime in order to see if he stays in character. It’s actually a very funny gag. But it’s in good taste to much of what follows.

Terry and Bob are soon drawn into an investigation involving a robbery gone wrong. The ensuing case places them on a collision course with a British lord with a deviant streak (played by a menacing Theo James) and his sadistic sidekick (Caleb Landry Jones, being foppish with aplomb). The cops are more interested in reclaiming the money for themselves. But they don’t count on getting their collective conscience pricked when the case takes a dark detour into child pornography and abuse.

For the hard-drinking Terry, in particular, the investigation brings back personal demons. Yet Bob is also stirred into doing something right for a change.

Admittedly, the set-up carries an air of inevitability about it. Audiences should be able to guess that no matter how bad Terry and Bob become, they’re sure to be pitted against someone worse, prompting the last act U-turn towards some kind of personal redemption.

What McDonagh brings to this particular equation, however, is his unique brand of humour and style, albeit one that riffs on Shane Black’s “The Nice Guys”: as well as everyone from Tarantino to William Friedkin and the hipster style of classic ’70s crime dramas.

Hence, for every nod to a genre staple, there’s something unexpected waiting in the wings, whether it’s the sight of two women playing tennis in burqas (for no real reason other than to drop in an arresting sight gag) or taking an unexpected detour to Iceland, complete with outrageous race jokes.

When the jokes land, they can be hilarious. Likewise, the stylistic flourishes, which range from split-frame foot-chases and funky soundtrack blasts to snappy dialogue or musings about Greek mythology or classical literature. McDonagh knows how to execute a slick gun battle too, while his characters are as colourful as they are original.

But alas, for every highpoint, there’s something that doesn’t sit quite right. The tone is uneven, to say the least, while the screenplay constantly flirts with the boundaries of good taste. The late trip into the porn arena feels unnecessary and unsavoury, as do some of the jokes at minorities and institutions.

It makes Terry and Bob difficult to warm to. Sure, they’re cool at times and they end up on the right side of things, but sometimes they feel like they’re trying too hard to offend. And this, in turn, affects some of their chemistry, no matter how good the individual performances of Skarsgård and Peña are.

War on Everyone is therefore a difficult film to judge. It’s great in places, but shoots wide of the mark in others. You’ll have a good time – but even those not easily offended may also leave with certain reservations.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 98mins
UK Release Date: October 7, 2016