War on Everyone

 

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John Michael McDonagh channels Tarantino in this smart-assed tale of two amoral cops.

 

War on Everyone

Pulp fiction: Michael Peña and Alexander Skarsgård

   

Nobody likes a clever clogs. On the surface, John Michael McDonagh’s third film is bursting at the seams with its own cleverness, referencing everything from Homer and Simone de Beauvoir to Doc Savage: Man of Bronze. But then smart aleck dialogue has always been McDonagh’s thing, exhibited in his deliriously entertaining The Guard (where his gangsters discuss philosophy) to the famous opening line of Calvary. His other thing is punching political correctness in the nose, a stance he employs with schoolboy glee while making sure he never crosses the mark (a black cop tempered the moral temperature in The Guard).

 

The women in his new film read a lot of books, while his two protagonists, the corrupt cops Bob (Michael Peña) and Terry (Alexander Skarsgård), are not quite as smart. They’re certainly slick dressers (there are a lot of waistcoats in the film), but they flout the law, plant evidence and drink (heavily) on duty. They also love pummelling their suspects. In the first scene, Terry is seen driving erratically through the outskirts of Albuquerque in pursuit of a clown on foot. Bob muses: “I always wondered if you hit a mime if they’d make a sound.” Terry ploughs into their terrified quarry. “Well, now you know,” he says.

 

Later, Terry squints at his sexy trophy girlfriend (Tessa Thompson) and asks, “can you be a feminist and wear hot pants?” McDonagh would hope so, because his female characters are the level-headed ones and still get to flaunt their booty. The seamier side of Albuquerque is well exposed and in another scene two lowlifes are watching a porn movie. The Irish miscreant Pádraic Power (McDonagh regular David Wilmot) observes, “There’s no plot in these things anymore.” To which his companion (Malcolm Barrett) replies, “If you ain’t got a good script, you ain’t got shit.” It’s a sentiment that McDonagh might have taken to heart. Dialogue alone cannot propel a movie and War on Everyone darts back and forth like a bloodied terrier that’s lost its way.

 

There’s an unscrupulous British villain, Lord James Mangan (Theo James, channelling Rupert Everett), who’s a thriving cliché and so dastardly that he’s meant to take some of the sting out of the cops pursuing him. But Bob and Terry are really in it for a missing million and just because Terry takes a young orphaned boy under his wing doesn’t sweeten his villainy. It’s too late. The film is heavily indebted to Tarantino and many of the lines are genuinely funny, but the film needs a stronger plot than this. With its parodic 1960s’ score and bad-cop/bad-cop format it feels like an extended episode of a TV series with smarter-than-average badinage. And with every new character providing another jolt of eccentricity, one ends up craving a moment of normality.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Michael Peña, Alexander Skarsgård, Theo James, Tessa Thompson, Caleb Landry Jones, Paul Reiser, Stephanie Sigman, David Wilmot, Malcolm Barrett.

 

Dir John Michael McDonagh, Pro Chris Clark, Flora Fernandez-Marengo, Phil Hunt and Compton Ross, Screenplay John Michael McDonagh, Ph Bobby Bukowski, Pro Des Wynn Thomas, Ed Chris Gill, Music Lorne Balfe, Costumes Terry Anderson.

 

Reprisal Films/Head Gear Films/Kreo Films FZ/Metrol Technology-Icon.

97 mins. UK. 2016. Rel: 7 October 2016. Cert. 15.