Film review of War On Everyone, a comedy about two corrupt policemen (Michael Pena and Alexander Skarsgard) who may have bitten off more than chew when they take on a criminal British Lord (Theo James). Written and directed by John Michael McDonagh.
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Bob (Michael Pena) and Terry (Alexander Skarsgard) are possibly the most corrupt cops in the New Mexico police who think nothing of running over drug dealers, stealing their cache, keeping some to use and then selling it on. But they may have met their match, when a debauched English Lord (Theo James) arrives in town and whose own criminality upsets all of their plans. They set out to teach him who the bosses are.
Review, by Jason Day
How happy was I to see trailers for this comedy at Cineworld, the cinema chain I’m a member of.
How unhappy was I to find out my local Cineworld (Rugby) did not have any screenings for this favourably reviewed comedy by John McDonagh (Calvary, 2014) in its schedule.
Instead of sitting around and moping, I schlepped down the railway line to my old Cineworld, Milton Keynes, that had plenty of screenings. The ticket was only £12.40 and the journey only 20 minutes.
Happy days? Not quite – it’s probably the biggest waste of £12.40 and 40 minutes I’ve ever spent.
I think I have a well developed sense of humour and pick up on the joke pretty quickly, (although after reading this review you may well think otherwise). With War On Everyone, I got the joke easily enough, I just didn’t find the film that funny.
Had I known that writer/director McDonagh had been gestating a derivative, sub-Tarantino rip-off, I may have saved my cash and stayed at home.
The trailer certainly picks the cream of the best bits of the film, as trailers of course do. So, with this and the 4/5 star reviews almost across the board, I settled in to enjoy a clever, bullseye stabbing satire about the police.
And War On Everyone certainly kicks off like that with a very funny opening sequence as our two anti-heroes run over a mime artist/drug dealer and then get swiftly wasted on the proceeds as they blackmail their informant (Malcolm Barrett), snorting the cocaine from a Baby Changer in the men’s bathroom (and how very 21st Century to have such things in the men’s room).
Skarsgard then careers into a number of cars as he parks up to join Pena at his home for a breezily observed ‘family scene’. Pena playfully denigrates his kids as only a father can as Skarsgard discusses with Pena’s eminently practical wife (a completely watchable Stephanie Sigman) a rash he has developed down below and possible treatment options.
It’s films like this, I thought, that make a critic’s life worth living!
Surely, a film packed full of the humour that results from the absurdity of exaggerating how corrupt two police officers can get, should hit a home run every few minutes?
But no, because something very obvious happens after such promising beginnings – McDonagh tries to make his own Pulp Fiction (1993). And with increasingly desperate additions as the film proceed, he also tries to best it.
The similarities are there for all to see so I won’t list them although I will note here that the audience at the screening I attended (mostly men in their 20’s) seemed either oblivious to them or did not to mind.
But the ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ dance with Skarsgard and Thompson should have hit home for most and made it abundantly clear: McDonagh is enamoured with Quentin’s cool as cool can be classic. War On Everyone is his homage to and also pastiche of that film.
Perhaps Tarantino himself will give a verdict on McDonagh’s efforts, but for me this was an almost intolerable infantile film, as if a pot-brained teenager had scribbled a final draft during lunch-time.
That enjoyably glib, rebellious, anarchic humour that opens the film quickly becomes nothing but rude and downright nasty, especially in Pena’s later description of his obese children as “fat f*cks”.
Satires about public institutions such as the police are great film fodder, but if one wants to take a few sharp jabs at the US Police service (and there must be a raft of films coming out offering this), don’t slack off – hit me between the eyes with sharp wit and keen observation.
When Pena complains of racism in the force, he sets Paul Reiser (as their Lieutenant) up to declare with such alarming obviousness you could see the line coming form outer space: “This is the police department. Everyone is a big fat racist”.
Later, our rebels without a point are outside a Mosque. Can you guess what two corrupt, anti-everything cops might say here in this film?
Outside a Mosque.
“Is it Al-Kyeda, or Al-Kayda?”
I hung my head in my hands and almost missed the next line, as Skarsgard is asked “What the f*ck you doing here?”. The following exchange occurs:
“You f*ck off.
“No, you f*ck off”.
I started thinking…can I get a f*cking refund on that train ticket from the cinema?
This tedious crudity continues throughout the film, but that’s not to say there aren’t some genuinely humorous moments along the way. The broad, silly humour is written well. McDonagh’s bullet-point list of economy shots at institutions and groups is where the script fails.
(I’ll leave aside any discussion about why he also inserts numerous references to authors such as Simone de Beauvoir. Are these amusing intellectual asides? Is he showing off his book collection? Suffice to say, you don’t need to have your actors spinning the covers to smart-ass books before our eyes. They can just hold them still. We can read).
On the definitive plus side, Pena and Skarsgard work very well as a double-act and the film is buoyed by this tag-team of rotten apples, with bad cop Pena enjoying the lion’s share of one-liners and strapping 6ft 3 Skarsgard (who adopts a painful looking stoop, lowering his neck to meet a cast who apart from James are all shorter than him) gets the badder, slightly psychotic cop intensity and physical stuff.
James’ naughty M’Lord is possibly the most beautiful and buff junkie in the history of cinema. Considering I had been accosted for money from an actual, real-life addict on my way into the cinema, his clear-skin, muscular physique and straight pearly-whites didn’t quite ring true to me.
He’s also addled with a number of paraphilia: chemsex aficionado, group sex, bisexual, paediophile, pornographer, voyeur and…English!
One thing I really did like about the script is the positive supporting roles for the women, who despite being on screen for much less time, are not victims, passive or emotionally needy, but forthright and intelligent. Full kudos to Sigman’s calm serenity, completely unfazed by and keenly encouraging the craziness of her husband’s career. Thompson’s wise stripper provides Skarsgard with a mental challenge he is unused to.
See the trailer on the official website.
Cast & credits
Director: John Michael McDonagh. 97mins. Reprisal Films/Head Gear/Kreo Films/Metrol. (15).
Producers: Chris Clark, Flora Fernandes-Morengo, Phil Hunt, Compton Ross.
Writer: John Michael McDonagh.
Camera: Bobby Bukowski.
Music: Lorne Balfe.
Sets: Wynn Thomas.
Michael Pena, Alexander Skarsgard, Theo James, Tessa Thompson, Stephanie Sigman, Caleb Landrey-Jones, Malcolm Barrett, David Wilmot, Paul Reiser.