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Terry (Alexander Skarsgård) and Bob (Michael Pena) are two detectives in Albuquerque, New Mexico who don’t quite have the whole “uphold the law” thing down quite so well, doing whatever they can to stay high, steal cash, and be as problematic as they can. When word spreads that a new player named Lord James Mangan (Theo James) is in town to set up shop, Terry and Bob put pressure on drug-addled informant Reggie (Malcolm Barrett) to learn what he can, setting up a big-money exchange that goes south for the boys who thought the cash was an easy pick. Now they go on a rampage, looking to collect, all to the increasing distress of their boss, Lt. Gerry (Paul Reiser).
Written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, War On Everyone doesn’t try to hide its irreverence, opening with a bombastic moment where Terry and Bob chase down a street mime and run him over with their car. It’s a gambit that is meant to set the tone and establish that these characters are unconventional and totally off the rails. Mixing absurd comedy and bloody mayhem, it feels like it’s ten years too late to the party, blending some Shane Black and Edgar Wright, though not nearly as sharp or inventive, despite some good moments. As the cops work hard to be the best and the worst they can be, every scene is either ghastly violent or dripping with sarcasm, though not to the limits it should in either direction, with almost nothing we haven’t seen before.
Take for instance a moment when Lord James has captured someone who has betrayed him and so is going to end him. In his hands he holds an American Revolutionary war sword and goes about detailing its history and such before doing the deed, and the entire time it feels less like a menacing character-developing arc and more like a weak Bond villain moment. It’s just one in a long stream of recycled genre tropes that don’t get much of a facelift here, as the tonal shifts and bland writing don’t really capitalize on the potential for black comedy. Misquoting philosophers and having a tough cop addicted to old Glen Campbell music (played throughout) don’t automatically mean irony. Like much of the film, it just feels forced.
Both Skarsgård and Pena are very likable actors and make for a good team, but neither really have the timing right and are not helped by obvious jokes that are rarely subtle, with both coming across as weirdly off-putting, making it especially hard to root for them. They are clearly broken people, but these dents in their personalities are never explored, only propped up with empty gestures and hollow dialogue.
War On Everyone has truckloads of style, even if it isn’t all that original, and McDonough occasionally gets a few that work well, but it layers the film too heavily and strips away the weight of the characters, weakening the chance to truly riff on the genre. A strange experience, this one has the motivation but never gets moving.
Movie description: War On Everyone is a 2017 black comedy about two corrupt cops who face off against a new player in town with a deadly disposition.
Director(s): John Michael McDonagh
Actor(s): Alexander Skarsgård, Tessa Thompson, Theo James
Genre: Black Comedy