War on Everyone ** / *****
Directed by: John Michael McDonagh.
Written by: John Michael McDonagh.
Starring: Alexander Skarsgård (Terry Monroe), Michael Peña (Bob Bolaño), Theo James (Lord James Mangan), Tessa Thompson (Jackie Hollis), Caleb Landry Jones (Russell Birdwell), Stephanie Sigman (Delores Bolaño), David Wilmot (Pádraic Power), Malcolm Barrett (Reggie X), Paul Reiser (Lt. Gerry Stanton), Zion Rain Leyba (Danny Reynard).
The first two directorial efforts by John Michael McDonagh are both very good. The Guard is a witty, funny cop/buddy drama/comedy with Brendan Gleason in fine former an Irish cop stuck with an uptight FBI agent (Don Cheadle) – as they look into a drug ring. His follow-up, Calvary, was more subdued and subtle – once again, it starred Gleason, but this time as a Priest in a small town, who was told in confessional that he would be murdered the next day – but he refuses to say who threatened him. His third film, War on Everyone, is sadly pretty much horrible. It is an attempt by McDonagh to return to the witty comedy of The Guard – but this time make a film as cynical and nihilistic as possible – setting it this time in America, and telling the story of two corrupt cops trying to steal money from people who are even worse than they are. The movie lacks as sort of flow however – scenes end abruptly, and have little in common with what comes next. There are a few isolated moments that are amusing, but overall, War on Everyone simply drags.
The story is about two cops – Terry Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard) and Bob Bolano (Michael Pena) – who have been suspended as number of times by their superior, Lt. Stranton (Paul Reiser – perhaps the best part of the movie). Stranton warns them – next time, they’ll be fired. That roles right off of Monroe and Bolano’s backs however, as they start to plan a robbery, where they can score a cool $1 million. They assemble a team, but get double crossed, etc. – and end up running afoul of a very rich, very bad man played by Theo James, and his weird henchman (Caleb Landry Jones). The wonderfully talented Tessa Thompson also shows up as a love interest to Skasgard, but when her most memorable scene involves her as a majorette, you know she’s been wasted.
War on Everyone is a film that verges on being nihilistic, but it is at least very cynical. I don’t necessarily mind that – I don’t relate to it as much as I did as a young man, but it can be fun to play at it for a few hours. Sadly though, nothing in War on Everyone really sticks. The characters don’t ever feel complete – Skarsgard tries his best to have a “fuck it” attitude, but he doesn’t pull it off. Pena has undeniable comic chops – and great timing and delivery, but other than a few isolated jokes, there’s really nothing to his character. That goes for the bad guys as well. I did enjoy Paul Reiser – a lot – as their boss, but he’s only in a few scenes. The rest of the film feels like the movies own trip to Iceland in the middle – where McDonagh like, fuck it, let’s see if this works, and if not we’ll just abandon it 5 minutes later anyway.