A uneven mash-up of buddy cop and spoof that nearly works.
Filmmaker John Michael McDonagh impressed me with his 2014 film ‘Calvary’, a solid blend of dark comedy and drama with great performances. His 2016 follow-up ‘War on Everyone‘ attempts a similar blend this time using the tried and true buddy cop formula. And it works–except, when it doesn’t. Pretty good cast and some solid laugh out moments, nonetheless.
Borrowing most heavily from Shane Black in style, ‘War’ gives us two unashamedly bent cops who spend much of their time hunting criminals…so they can rob and/or frame them. Heavily philosophized debating between thinker Det. Bob Bolaño (Michael Peña) and drinker/brawler Det. Terry Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård) help sell the idea that they are, at least, thoughtful, if not exactly good, detectives.
Early on the jokes comes fast and hard as a quirky rapport is developed. Peña is so deadpan non-PC it feels more parody than straight-up comedy. It’s not like anyone is allowed to say these things out loud, most especially to their own children. Still, it’s damn funny stuff. “Where’s my X-Box?” “How the f*ck should I know?” “Oh, you know what? It’s up my ass. You wanna see it?”
Once riotous straight-man Paul Reiser shows up as their cliche-riddled, always agitated captain we’re in full-on spoof mode. I just went along, enjoying the one-liners and the way past ironic misbehavior. Peña and Skarsgård just beautifully sell it.
Watching these two eat burgers while attempting to question a hysterical woman with her recently stabbed husband bleeding out at their feet is pure dark-comedic gold. “Ma’am, why did you stick him?”
However, once we’re fully into the perfunctory, overly complex, and unnecessarily creepy plot involving strip-club manager Birdwell (a way OTT Caleb Landry Jones) and psychopathic pornographer Lord James Mangan (an emotionless Theo James) the tone shifts to pitch black.
As the bodies pile up, the crimes revealed will make your skin crawl and everyone just stops having fun. Again, Shane Black 101 (a la ‘Lethal Weapon’). Yet, these guys are mere cardboard replicas of Riggs/Murtaugh. Their motivational shift from dirty cops to heroes isn’t earned.
Underutilized support spins from Tessa Thompson and Stephine Sigman as the “significant others” offer some much-needed humanity and decent eye-candy. While Malcolm Barrett and David Wilmot are hysterical as a pair of oddball “informants”.
The finale attempts to redeem this nearly irredeemable duo; but, one quick turn of giving a sh*t doesn’t a good guy make. And for a film that took nothing seriously at its start to suddenly turn twisted dramatic at its end is jarring. McDonagh did this in both his prior films, ‘Calvary’ and ‘The Guard’, with much better results.
Yet, there’s plenty to like in 2016’s ‘War on Everyone‘. Including stellar chemistry from two solid leads, the always great Paul Reiser, and lots of I can’t believe they just did/said that moments.