Movie Review: ‘War on Everyone’
Starring: Michael Pena, Alexander Skarsgard, and Tessa Thompson
Plot: Returning from suspension, two corrupt cops get in over their heads chasing $1 million in stolen money.
They have the right to remain violent: reads the tagline on this movie’s poster that must be hanging somewhere despite this VOD release. Under normal circumstances, I would say that this was a horrible time for a broad comedy about abusive cops. It is a reality that all too often makes it to the headlines. Not really a laughing matter, but with a McDonagh at the helm, one could expect something more satirical. His earlier cop satire, The Guard, is a pretty damn good watch and his introspective movie about faith, Calvary, is near brilliant.
McDonagh nails the toxic masculinity and “Ugly Americanism” that so many fear attracts the worst kind of person to take on the badge. Skarsgard is Terry, a hulking, hunchbacked Terminator who gleefully confesses to joining the force just so that he can shoot people and no one can do anything about it. Pena plays Bob, Terry’s quippy partner, who is often dropping philosophical mumbo jumbo and bits of trivia, few of which I bothered to fact check (Yes, it does seem Uranus was almost known as George). They are often funny, especially Pena, but border on nihilism, with only a few cheap scenes about their home life to prove they might be human.
It moves at an erratic pace resembling a series of bad cop cliche vignettes glued together by the thinnest of plot than an actual satire of this behavior. While it milks a few gags for some good laughs, it feels even more derivative than the derivative quick-talking crime yarns of the 90s. If anything, it works better as a parody of True Detective (even has the college freshman “Intro to Philosophy” musings) or other TV “genius” detective shows, the kind where a peculiar expert is partnered with a generically badass cop. Those elements are “turned up to 11” with little meaning or message in site. They are simply just put on display.
McDonagh even seems like he might be in their corner similar to how storyteller Shane Black admires the outlaw archetypes. By his own admission, Black’s movies are about when the systems of civilization fail, and we need to turn back to the gunslinger to fight the enemies that threaten us. Except, the system and civilization are mostly intact in War on Everyone. There is no danger big enough to ruin it, just a few troublemakers who think they can run drugs on the side of their otherwise legal (but shady) businesses. I guess, the biggest danger to the crumbling of civilization is Terry and Bob themselves, who go to great lengths to make sure their gunslingin’ ways are always going to be somewhat necessary.
That as good a message as any I guess, but I think it succumbs to Poe’s law: parody mistaken for sincerity. The comedy often feels more like a kneejerk reaction to so-called “PC culture,” making it more tasteless than subversive. Its sloppy structure and underwritten ideas make it look more like just another buddy cop broad comedy. If it meant to be something more, it sadly fails. If it ultimately wanted to do nothing but entertain, it only does it at half-measure.