It’s been a while since I’ve been to a Screen Unseen at the Odeon, the once a month or so showing of a mystery film, and after Midnight Special, I was eager to get back into it. Successfully avoiding the film’s identity up to that point, it eventually turned out to be John Michael McDonagh’s buddy comedy War on Everyone, which I had vaguely heard of around Twitter but otherwise, I had no idea what it was.
Detectives Terry Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård) and Bob Bolaño (Michael Peña) are bad cops. They do what they want, when they want, to the obvious frustration of their boss. Swaggeringly taking on (and framing) every criminal they meet, they soon run afoul of the dangerous Lord James Mangan (Theo James) as the bodies start piling up and they search for a stolen $1 million.
I can probably sum up my experience of this film by saying that it started off worryingly, then I started to kind of enjoy it, but then it ran out of steam and I was eventually willing it to end. It’s not a terrible film; it’s enjoyable enough, I smiled plenty of times and laughed once, but after its been seen, it’s not something that you’ll be desperate to watch again.
The leading performances are alright, though definitely nothing special; Michael Peña is humorous (though clearly not as funny as he was in Ant-Man), Alexander Skarsgård is fine, if seriously lacking in charisma, and Tessa Thompson is a charming enough love interest.
As mentioned before, at a certain point, it starts being an enjoyable enough film and there are a few jokes here and there that illicit some smiles, though by my count I only really laughed once – during the “mariachi band shootout”: “Nobody cares about innocent bystanders!” The humour is never too offensive, though it does cause discomfort at certain points. I mean, if you like jokes about Muslims, Transgenders, the Irish, the Chinese, the Japanese, Epileptics and the disabled then clearly, this is the film for you . . .
I would have to say that my favourite part of War on Everyone is the soundtrack; Skarsgård’s character is, oddly enough, a huge fan of Glen Campbell and as such, we get to hear plenty of him in the film. Hearing “Wichita Lineman” during the romance/sex scene is a neat, unexpected touch and the final slow motion shot featuring Tessa Thompson dancing on the bed is weirdly fascinating. In addition, there’s a later dance scene set to “Rhinestone Cowboy”, which is the highlight of the whole film. The film does however end with the slightly obvious “I Fought the Law”, which, while fun, has definitely been done before (in 2014’s RoboCop).
However, War on Everyone certainly has its problems. Starting the film, I immediately recognised John Michael McDonagh’s name but I couldn’t remember where from (I incorrectly thought that he directed In Bruges). Afterwards, I was astounded when I realised that he was behind Calvary, which I wasn’t exactly bowled over with but I certainly respected it. This film seems like a noticeable step down in quality and it is a shame that McDonagh has gone down this relatively lowbrow route.
The story, if there even is one, is pretty standard and dull: two irresponsible dudes tussle with a generic baddie, people get shot, hilarity (barely) ensues. It is uneven, at times trying to be an outrageously offensive buddy cop movie while at the same time, attempting to have depth and make us care for the characters. The characters aren’t developed at all and Skarsgård’s Monroe is inconsistent, going from being a drink driving loner jackass to being a protective family guy. Skarsgård and Peña don’t have that much chemistry either.
Some have noted that the film is a send up of Starsky and Hutch and this is clear to see through its grainy cinematography and wacky characters (Malcolm Barrett’s character Reggie comparing himself to Huggy Bear is quite funny). However, it all seems completely out of place in this film, not blending at all with the modern day setting. Characters like Reggie, as well as Tessa Thompson’s character Jackie, clearly look like they’ve been taken from some random blaxploitation film and this is constantly awkward and baffling.
As antagonist James Mangan, Theo James is simply a pantomime villain, the classic arrogant, swaggering, condescending Brit complete with “I’m the greatest criminal mind there is, I’m far too smart for you, don’t even try to defeat me” attitude. Blindingly two-dimensional, his motives are never made clear and he is simply put there as the generic villain to be defeated. In addition, Caleb Landry Jones (who I initially didn’t recognise at all, he was of course Banshee in X-Men: First Class) is just . . . weird. As effeminate weirdo henchman Birdwell, he has crazy hair, crazy clothes, a crazy voice and I had absolutely no idea just what he was supposed to be.
In a nutshell, War on Everyone is seemingly a mix of 21 Jump Street (though I haven’t actually seen it!), The Nice Guys and Inherent Vice. Essentially, its The Nice Guys without the warmth, far less excitement and with some Seth MacFarlane style offensiveness thrown in.
But on the plus side, Michael Peña looks dope in that suit!
Sporadically entertaining, War on Everyone is uneven, uninspired and the mildly offensive jokes are more miss than hit.
🎶 I am a lineman for the countyyyyyy . . . 🎶