Director: John Michael McDonagh Starring: Michael Peña, Alexander Skarsgård Running Time: 98 minutes
Fuck off. Feel free to resume reading this review after you’ve finished cracking up, because going by John Michael McDonagh there is nothing funnier than a spot of profanity. A sudden swear has been used to comedic effect plenty of times in films before, not least the previous work of McDonagh and his brother Martin, so it stands to reason that amping up the curse count will make things even funnier, right? That a scene of a Bad Cop and a teen telling each other to fuck off back and forth repeatedly would be completely hilarious and not get tiresome almost immediately? For those who do grow weary with the hilarity of cursing (imagine), don’t worry, as McDonagh has packed his latest film with things he finds even funnier than that, namely homophobia, transphobia, racism and the side-splitting existence of the disabled. McDonagh has always been cynical, but his latest film is the George Bush “Mission Accomplished” banner of his own personal war, his War On Everyone.
Michael Peña and Alexander Skarsgård play a pair of dirty cops, feckless drug-users who are all too happy to make money on the side and beat up anyone who crosses them. The pair are motivated to solve their latest case because it was a drug deal that they were supposed to cash in on, gone awry at the hands of a young British toff and his campy, club-owning henchman. The central players of War On Everyone are characters not because of how they feel or relate to each other, but because of stapled on tics. Skarsgård drinks and likes Glenn Campbell, he is a character. Peña rattles off random facts, he is a character. Theo James is British? Character city.
There are no underlying thoughts about these men, their crimes or their natures. Only the next curse word, the next punch, the next Glenn Campbell song. To see blatantly corrupt police treated so frivolously is pretty tone-deaf these days, but at least the events that play out here could be excused as audacious satire. Unfortunately, its a) not funny enough and b) far too enamored with its leads to qualify as an enditement of police. The film is firmly on their side, rewarding the leads at every turn as they blow off everything, figure out nothing and accomplish everything easily. Cheap gags are scored at the expense of the titular “everyone”, with dwarfs chased, fat children mocked, trans characters gawked at and the word jihad thrown nonsensically at a pair of women in burkas. Considering this and the inciting revelation that turns Skarsgård and Peña into righteous vigilantes (child abuse, a device McDonagh has used for insta-drama before), it seems as if the film views having any line at all to draw to be the height of morality.
Pity poor Tessa Thompson, trying to inject some charm into her Madonna-Whore combo meal “character”. Pity Peña and Skarsgård too, who at least have chemistry. The film around these talented actors is a mess, struggling to balance adolescent humour with its pretentious musings (if characters quote scholarly texts they are smart). The stylistic elements of 70s and 80s cop shows the film occasionally uses end up dropped completely, as if it forgot about them in the excitement of laughing at someone with Downs syndrome. If anyone involved with making this film wants praise for having seen Bad Lieutenant or Quentin Tarantino films, then congrats, they have it. But on its own merits, War On Everyone is a down-punching, miserable vulgarity.(1 / 5)