When a film is touted as a supposedly offensive comedy, I tend to go in sceptical, because for me titles touted as such tend to be neither. Such was the case with War on Everyone, and it’s fair to say, in that regard at least, my expectations were met. War on Everyone failed to elicit a single belly laugh from me, and neither did it leave me writing letters to my local MP demanding the BFI should be dismantled for funding such sick filth. No, instead, I was mostly bored for just over an hour and a half, and wishing I’d re-watched The Nice Guys for a third time instead.
War on Everything tells a convoluted tale about two crooked cops, Bob Bolaño (Michael Peña) and Terry Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård), who find themselves caught up in a seedy caper to steal stolen money from a strip-club owner (Caleb Landry Jones) and a British Lord (Theo James). While wise-cracking and face-smacking their way through lowlier crooks, Bob and Terry might meet their match with the major creeps who’ve got away with the dough.
It’s quite hard to review War on Everyone, because while it’s not technically bad, I found myself so bored while watching it that it’s a struggle to find anything of note. It’s well shot, I’ll give it that, with some interesting sequences, but its tonally confused: sometimes dream-like, sometimes anarchic, there’s a never a clear directorial sense of what’s going on. Narratively it’s the same – I’m not sure whether it was pitching for offensive or satirical, and it lands at neither. An early save-the-cat about Terry and Bob being in trouble with their boss for beating up a fellow officer because he was a ‘racist pig’ and how all cops are ‘racist pigs’ doesn’t make the rest of the film’s use of casual racism any funnier or any cleverer. And I don’t say that because I find the mild flinging around of words like ‘chink’ and jokes about Muslims offensive, I just don’t find them funny. The sooner comedy writers work out the difference, the better.
The film is also peppered with conversations and monologues about philosophy and culture, from Simone de Beauvoir, to Andre Breton, to Joseph Conrad, and by the film’s close I wasn’t any wiser as to why these were in the film. Primarily delivered by Bob, Bob’s wife (Stephanie Sigman) and tag-along eye-candy Jackie (Tessa Thompson), conversations about literature or ethics added very little to the narrative or the characters, instead suggesting a heavy-handed attempt at making up for the so-called offensive humour, or an even heavier-handed attempt at portraying apparent low-lives as – gasp! – multi-faceted. Well, gee, who knew.
The performances suit the film – on the nose and neither impressive nor disappointing. If anyone was somewhat disappointing it’s Caleb Landry Jones, who I normally think is brilliant, but he’s given a thanklessly unimaginative role here. The film isn’t even particularly entertaining in its violent scenes – a few CGI blood-spurts maketh not a spectacle. To the film’s credit, there were some things I enjoyed – there was a cat in a couple of scenes, for example, and later quite a cute dog. There’s also an amusing scene when Bob holds a maneki-neko while something blows-up, and a scene where a man’s wig comes off while he’s being rough-housed by Terry. If it sounds like I’m clutching at straws, it’s because I am.
Maybe I missed the subtext of War on Everyone, or maybe it’s just plain and simply not aimed at me. I found it neither offensive, nor funny, nor entertaining – but hey, at least I haven’t seen McDonagh’s previous two, well-regarded films, so it wasn’t crushingly disappointing in that regard. If you’re after an edgy, clever and funny odd-couple buddy-cop movie, then, seriously, watch The Nice Guys. It’s pretty much everything War on Everyone isn’t.
War on Everyone is released by Icon Entertainment on 30th January 2017.