“If you ain’t got a good script, then you ain’t got shit,” a knowing acknowledgement perhaps on the part of writer/director John Michael McDonagh that his latest offering lacks the aptitude of his previous pictures. This is the first film McDonagh has made away from the motherland, and though he directs with blistering confidence, this diverting but ultimately derivative crime caper suggests his heart is still in Ireland.
Taking its cue as much from 70s cops shows as Michael Bay’s Bad Boys, War on Everyone plays it straighter than you would ever expect for a director who’s previously proved himself to be so subversive. Terry and Bob (Alexander Skarsgård & Michael Peña) are corrupt cops and partners in crime working the streets of New Mexico. Any criminal who crosses their path is blackmailed or, failing that, framed. Their time ruling the roost, however, looks like its about to come crashing down. A slimy English villain who looks suspiciously like Theo James has arrived in town, and he appears to be even more treacherous than they are.There may not be even the slightest hint of originality in the story – the character arcs will be defined in your mind long before they’re expressed on the screen. But McDonagh still shows himself to have serious street smarts. Abetted by Alexander Skarsgård and Michael Peña’s fiery chemistry, the script fires off a succession of ferocious one-liners that take pot shots at just about every diverse demographic imaginable. It may be in poor taste – and at 90+ minutes in length, protracted to the point of tedium – but there’s a sickly satisfaction to the director’s dedication in ensuring that every member of his audience is encouraged to laugh at his or her own expense.
Where War on Everyone misfires is in its inability to comprehend its own image. McDonagh’s muddled melding of 70s stylistics – plenty of sweeping music cues, and glossy close-ups – with his own distinctively eccentric flourishes – Terry’s outlandish affinity for Glen Campbell – never manages to make a spark. The only real surprise comes in the form of a short detour to Iceland that contains the biggest belly laugh of the film.
More of a reason to recoil though is James’ one note villain; a smarmy British lord who’s about as threatening as a Shetland pony, which makes the dénouement all the more disappointing. It’s easy to be drawn in by War on Everyone’s rebellious and romanticised ruggedness, but look closely and you soon see that this is far from remarkable.