When done correctly, politically incorrect comedies strike a chord with its audience. But when your film is one big drawn out gag that is constantly trying to one up itself, things can become a bit daunting. This is exactly the case with John Michael McDonagh’s third film, War on Everyone. Becoming an exercise in repetition, the corrupt buddy cop storyline quickly makes Rush Hour 3 look like a great idea.
War on Everyone follows Bob (Michael Peña) and Terry (Alexander Skarsgård), two very dark cops who roam the streets of Albuquerque looking to extort unsuspecting vigilantes and drug dealers. Bob and Terry stretch the boundaries of the law, as they often lie, cheat and steal their way to a huge payday, and I’m not talking about the candy bar. Eventually our anti heroes get tied to a bank robbery spearheaded by a prototypical British villain by the name of Lord James Mangan (Theo James) and his eccentric sidekick Birdwell (Caleb Landry Jones), a man with a dope perm. Birdwell shares qualities eerily similar to those of Heath Ledger’s Joker, except with terribly chapped lips. Sadly, he never does get his hands on a stick of Burt’s Bees.
The premise of War on Everyone sounds promising and the opening sequence is hysterical, as it involves a mime on the run from the law meeting his untimely silent death. What follows is a string of half-baked ideas and characters that appear obsessed with 70’s culture. The film suggests inspiration from the likes of French Connection and Starsky and Hutch. But it ultimately puts too much emphasis on its style, failing to contain enough substance to sustain, as it proves unable to generate a meaning for its characters and their actions.
One of the few takeaways is that Peña and Skarsgård seem to be having a blast chasing after “bad guys” and manipulating everyone that stands in their way. With a quick flash of the badge, (or supposed badge in some cases), they unleash the fury on those around them. It isn’t much, but given the film, it should count for something.
One has to wonder how McDonagh could create such a misfire. This is the same gifted writer/director of critically acclaimed hits The Guard and Cavalry. This film possesses real grit and truth with a slice of dark comedy. McDonagh went overboard with War on Everyone and came up short as he focused on the harsh realities of corruption in the police force. It’s a shame he couldn’t quite find a proper balance to pull off the intended satirical comedy.