War on Everyone (2016) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for violence, sexuality/nudity, drug use and pervasive language
Running Time: 98 min.
Cast: Alexander Skarsgard, Michael Pena, Theo James, Tessa Thompson, Malcolm Barrett, David Wilmot, Caleb Landry Jones, Stephanie Sigman
Small role: Method Man, Kara Hayward, Jared
Director: John Michael McDonagh
Screenplay: John Michael McDonagh
Review published February 9, 2017
Back in the late 1990s, there were quite a number of Tarantino knockoffs to come out -- hard-boiled and very violent thrillers that featured lots of quirky characters and attempts at amusing, anecdotal conversations between them that were meant to entertain above push the plot forward. As with most cinematic trends, they eventually fizzled out when studios began to chase the next lucrative trend among independent films.
You'd never guess they had died when you see War on Everyone, John Michael McDonagh's (The Guard, Calvary) attempt to revive the verbose banter and irreverent attitude of those second-tier works. Unfortunately, it plays more like a Will Ferrell buddy comedy, except replacing Ferrell's penchant for physical humor with Alexander Skarsgard's (The Legend of Tarzan, Hidden) one-note performance, which persistently disrupts the tone (Skarsgard was a last-minute replacement for the originally cast Garrett Hedlund, who left the project due to conflicts with McDonagh). It probably doesn't help that there aren't many actual comedians in prominent roles beyond Paul Reiser (Concussion), who plays the stock exasperated police sergeant.
War on Everyone follows two corrupt, self-destructive, loose-cannon cops in Albuquerque, New Mexico, family man Bob Bolano (Pena, The Martian) and racist, sexist lush Terry Monroe (Skarsgard). On one of their more recent busts, they follow a lead to a planned million-dollar heist, and immediately want to be there to score the loot themselves in the bust.
In terms of tone, John Michael McDonagh's first film shot outside in the United States feels a bit like the latest U.S.-based film turned in by his filmmaking brother, Martin McDonagh, Seven Psychopaths, another film that I compared to the post-Pulp Fiction clones that came out in the late 1990s, full of bloody violence, brash attitude, and peppered with jokey moments that play to the crowd, such as one of the characters musing on whether a mime will make a sound when he is hit with a car.
Although he does try to give it his all, one of the main liabilities for War on Everyone is the miscasting of Alexander Skarsgard in the role of Terry. Skarsgard chooses to play for caricature more than character, adopting a hang-dog expression and pronounced slouch in his posture, where it looks like he's in mild pain just getting words out during conversations. As the alcoholic Glen Campbell-loving country boy, he never manages to carry the authenticity necessary to bring Terry to life.
Pena fares better in his co-lead performance, but even he is hampered by having to force in dialogue that plays more for the easy laugh in the moment than as something this particular character might say on a day-to-day basis. The only actor who seems to be giving a full-on performance is Tessa Thompson (Creed), who lifts up the film into a something where we begin to see the humor in the characters and their situations; if only she weren't surrounded by manufactured buffoonery, the laughs that are evoked might be earned rather than lay there lifelessly without a chance for us to find connection to them beyond just sporadic zaniness.
If you're someone who titters at humor because of their don't-give-a-f**k rudeness quotient, or just enjoys action-comedies because they're zippy in pace, you may get a bit of mileage out of War on Everyone as a momentary diversion. If you enjoy great comedic writing, solid performances, and a plot you can sink your teeth into, you're going to find McDonagh's film is woefully lacking. Gags are redundant, and don't get any funnier with repeat references (such as a fruitless recurring allusion to the country singer Glen Campbell).
The 90s-era Elmore Leonard-inspired thriller homage is rife, alluded directly to in a scene in which they catch Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight on the TV and comment about it. If you're like me, you'll wish they stayed in front of that TV for the remainder of the run time so you can watch a much better movie instead.
©2017 Vince Leo