WAR ON EVERYONE: Bad Cop, Bad Cop, Bad Movie

Thought the buddy cop movie formula was tired? Well, it is a cinematic breath of fresh air in comparison to the “bad cop” movie. These movies are tiresome depictions of lawmen (and make no mistake, they are always men) who break every rule in the book whilst trying to enforce it – and even though there have been solid entries into the genre in recent years, it can’t help but feel worn out. The revelation that cops can be as abhorrent as the criminals they seek is so played out, it’s hard to believe it was ever considered novel.

The latest addition to that canon is War on Everyone, a laboured, formulaic mess that is tiresome from its opening minutes due to how uninspired it is at depicting its reckless characters.

Un-PC in the most boring way imaginable

The plot is as old as the crime genre itself. Crooked cops Terry and Bob (Alexander Skarsgard and Michael Peña, respectively) are under intense scrutiny from their boss due to the amount of corruption rumours circling around them wherever they go. Of course, that doesn’t stop them proceeding to accept bribes left, right and centre as they go further down the rabbit hole of investigating a major New Mexico drug lord – often whilst under the influence themselves.

These are bad cops, constantly breaking every rule in the book. So why is it that the movie lacks any sort of an edge, only making them seem like boorish personalities from the introductory moments? It consistently pushes an un-PC sense of humour, trading barbs about race, sexuality and everything in-between. But instead of pushing the envelope of societal taste and feeling darkly comic, it merely echoes the views of the right wing populist establishment, with very little comic edge to set it apart as satire.

WAR ON EVERYONE: Bad Cop, Bad Cop, Bad Movie
source: Saban Films

This is clearly not director John Martin McDonagh’s intention. In his two previous efforts, 2011’s The Guard and 2014’s Calvary, he held the backward minded views of small town Irish folk under a microscope, equally scrutinising them and daring to examine the root cause of their viewpoints.

Transported across the Atlantic to New Mexico, the gags about race, sexuality and many other tiresome sources of “edgy humour” (right now, jokes from a left-wing perspective would be the edgiest pop culture conceit imaginable) just feel incredibly boring, especially in a political climate where every other punchline feels like a proposed Trump policy.

Although it shares the same black comic intentions as his prior works, it would be hard to distinguish War on Everyone as a movie by the director if you didn’t have any prior knowledge. The narrative pays a ridiculous amount of homage to the works of Shane Black, checking off the clichéd crime thriller elements that he manages to make feel fresh with absolute ease. Coming off the back of Black’s The Nice Guys, one of the most enjoyable mainstream movies of the year, only works to the detriment of McDonagh’s film. Audiences have seen these same formulaic narrative beats done to death, something Black’s film made it incredibly easy to forget, as it reinvigorated them with absolute ease.

Clichés as far as the eye can see

With War on Everyone, all we get is a check-list of genre clichés, with no interesting (let alone coherent) narrative connecting them all. If you thought McDonagh was an interesting filmmaker who could bring an edge to such generic material, you will leave feeling disappointed. It isn’t just Black’s movies that are being homaged here; a lot of the narrative elements are inexplicably taken verbatim from the first act of A View to a Kill.

As this influence makes clear, War on Everyone is a film set in the modern day that feels outdated by multiple decades. Is there still a criminal underworld in the porn industry? Is horse racing really a front for criminal activity? These are questions that no longer have any cultural cache, but McDonagh’s inane fascination with old cop movies has made him rehash them, instead of creating a new, vibrant reinvention of the genre that his previous movies prove him capable of making.

WAR ON EVERYONE: Bad Cop, Bad Cop, Bad Movie
source: Saban Films

At least The Nice Guys was a satirical period piece, so could be easily forgiven for the outdated, noir style depiction of a criminal underworld. War on Everyone has laughable pretensions to real life criminal activity, which may be the primary reason it grows tiresome so quickly. The characters aren’t even developed to an extent that makes them or their emotional arcs worth caring about, whilst the narrative is so haphazardly assembled it becomes easy to ignore altogether. McDonagh has repeatedly shown dense literary and cinematic influence in his work, which is only represented here through a visual nod to 2001 and a recurring gag about Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight. Making a buddy cop movie is presumably his way of letting his hair down – but that is no excuse for making something so uninspired and poorly constructed.

The film’s saving grace is Michael Peña‘s lead performance – but as with so many of the roles he is given, you do leave wishing he was working with better material, considering how accomplished his comedic chops appear to be. He is magnetically watchable, even as the film around him becomes a car crash; he even manages to sell a second act detour to Iceland, which lasts for two minutes and features no narrative payoff, other than the revelation that the cast and crew must have fancied a quick vacation there during filming.

Peña’s character is defined by having an extensive knowledge on a range of subjects, whilst Alexander Skarsgard is defined by being a lothario with a love of Glen Campbell. We never get under the skin of these characters any deeper – they are stock bad cop archetypes with only a couple of semi-interesting personality quirks that aren’t even introduced or developed in a way that seems natural, let alone believable.

As for the villains? Well, at least it looks like McDonagh had a fantastic time developing these characters, taking influence from the most ridiculous elements of 80’s genre trash in each and every personification. It’s just a shame that the surface-level interest doesn’t translate into any real menace or threat, just the same level of consistent tedium, as every other character in the movie provokes.

Even the usually reliable Caleb Landry Jones can’t bring any interest to what should be the most arresting character, an androgynous underworld mobster, a bonkers character that you wouldn’t find anywhere near classic pulp, but is rendered so uninteresting it feels like you’ve seen a similar performance countless times before.

Conclusion

War on Everyone is a mess in every conceivable way. It is a comedy that isn’t funny, a crime movie with a poorly constructed narrative, and delivers nothing but characters and scenarios you couldn’t care less about. Considering the well-written and well-characterised works John Martin McDonagh has made a name for himself creating, this significant step down into uninteresting genre territory ensures that his latest effort registers as the most disappointing auteur work of the year.

What are the best buddy cop movies?

War on Everyone is released in the UK on October 7, with a US release planned for early 2017. All international release dates are here. 

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