So what is War good for? All I came up with is that it might be helpful for insomnia sufferers; brings new meaning to those “End This War” bumper stickers; and could be used as a primer on how not to make action movies. If you take any of the distinguished actioners of recent memory, whether it be Robert Rodriguez’s half of Grindhouse (2007), Planet Terror, Prachya Pinkaew’s The Protector (2006), Live Free or Die Hard (2007) or even Wayne Kramer’s Running Scared (2006), you’ll find they all have one thing in common: They don’t care about plot or believability or earnestness. Heck, even War star Jason Statham realized this in last year’s Crank. Rodriguez has been the one to bring this into fashion, pulling action movies away from the oh-so-serious, muscle-bound antics of Schwarzenegger and Stalone in the <#213>80s and <#213>
90s and into the realm of the absurd and, ultimately, the entertaining. Sure, they may be trashy or preposterous, but at least they’re fun—this is where War goes wrong.
Instead of realizing the shortcomings of its storyline and focusing on the action, the makers take the exact opposite approach: They skimp on the action and overload the movie with plot. This would be fine if the movie reveled in its inherent absurdity, but director and longtime music-video auteur Philip G. Atwell seems to think he’s adapting Tolstoy. Part of the problem is Jet Li, who just might be the most humorless man this side of Dick Cheney. Though I’m apt to cut Li some slack since the movie even manages to do what I once thought was impossible, which is make Luis Guzmán dull.
The movie starts off as your normal revenge flick, with FBI agent Jack Crawford (Statham) going after a mysterious assassin named Rogue (Li) who killed his partner (Terry Chen, Snakes on a Plane) three years earlier. This is all fine and dandy as a jumping-off point. However, Atwell and writers Lee Anthony Smith and Gregory J. Bradley have to add in subplots about a rivalry between the Triads and the Yakuza, Rogue’s attempts to start a gang war between the two, and something to do with a couple of Crate-and-Barrel-looking horse statues from Asia. As the plot twists and turns on itself, it becomes harder and harder to follow. When the Triads and the Yakuza get in a gunfight at a teahouse, the fight makes sense. When the FBI busts in to join the fight, it becomes confusing. When the kitchen staff joins the fray, you give up trying to understand any of it. All of this is supposed to lead up to the film’s big revelatory twist, which is never fully explained, and therefore just becomes silly. It’s the kind of twist that even M. Night Shyamalan would find perfunctory.
None of this would matter, except for the fact that War insists on being continually humorless and dull. The action is sparse, and when there is action it’s uninspired and handled in such a cumbersome manner that it just becomes tiresome. War gets so boring at times that I wanted to plead with Atwell for someone, anyone, to please just get kicked in the face.
I guess if there’s anything good to say about this movie, it’s that there was a time not too long ago when DMX or Ja Rule would have starred in it. I guess it’s calming to know that, as a culture, we are making strides, as small as they may seem. Rated R for sequences of strong bloody violence, sexuality/nudity and language.