With a title like “War on Everyone,” you might expect something along the lines of a Donald Trump documentary as it seems to perfectly describe his state of mind as he goes about pissing world leaders for no good reason. But it is actually a black comedy, with special emphasis on the word “black.” I find black comedies endlessly fascinating because, when they are done right, filmmakers can get me to laugh at things I have no business laughing at any other time or place. Every once in a while, we need a comedy with a bit of edge as movies can’t afford to be polite or politically correct all the time.
Having said that, “War on Everyone,” despite having a very talented filmmaker behind the camera and terrific actors in front of it, proves to be a big disappointment. There are some clever lines of dialogue here and there, but while writer and director John Michael McDonagh is in love with his own words and story to where the fun he had with his material seemed contagious, this fun does not translate over to the audience. Considering the talent involved, it should have been so much better.
Terry Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard) and Bob Bolano (Michael Pena) are police detectives who are infinitely corrupt and do not allow rules and regulations to get in the way of blackmailing criminals who make the mistake of making a left turn into Albuquerque, New Mexico. Like Alec Baldwin in “Miami Blues,” they rob from people who rob from people, but they don’t give the money back to the poor. They are always on the lookout for a big payoff to help finance houses and apartments no cop could possibly afford on their own salary and pay for video games their kids will waste countless hours on.
But then they run afoul of British crime boss and unrepentant junkie James Mangan (Theo James), and he is not the average law-breaking citizen they typically deal with. Soon, Terry and Bob find themselves in a desperate situation which eventually becomes less about money and instead about settling a personal score.
McDonagh previously gave us the critically acclaimed buddy cop comedy “The Guard” as well as one of my favorite movies from 2014, “Calvary.” The latter made me very eager to check out “War on Everyone” as he looked like he could do no wrong. But this movie falls apart from the get go as the majority of the material left little in the way of laughs, and we get stuck with a couple of characters who frankly nowhere as interesting as McDonagh wants them to be,
Now characters don’t have to be likable for a movie to work, but they do have to at the very least be interesting. Terry and Bob feel more like they are made out of spare parts left over from a dozen other cop movies to where they barely exist as human beings. I didn’t care about their plight nor did I care about whether they lived or died. These are just two guys who hate everything and everybody in equal measure, and there isn’t much more to them.
It’s especially frustrating to say this because Skarsgard is typically a strong actor, and Pena is awesome in just about any movie he appears in. But Skarsgard is forced to play a character who is perpetually drunk and careless about life, and the only thing notable about him is his love of Glen Campbell music. As for Pena, he has terrific comedic skills but is unable to lift the material he has been given out of the dreary depths it is stuck in. In fact, he proves to be funnier in the trailer for the upcoming “CHiPS” movie than he does here, and that one looks terrible.
The other big problem with “War on Everyone” is the tone seems to be all over the place. McDonagh can’t seem to decide whether he wants the material to be broad or playfully realistic and, as a result, it feels like the other characters seem to be occupying different movies while inhabiting the same one. Caleb Landry Jones plays a jittery strip club manager named Birdwell, but he’s a little too edgy to where I wasn’t sure whether to laugh at or be fearful of him. Malcolm Barrett plays Reggie X, a black Muslim and ex-con, and his character goes in different directions to where it felt like McDonagh couldn’t decide what to do with him. Theo James plays Mangan as your typically cold villain to where any jokes he has fall flat because his performance feels depressingly one-note. And then there’s Paul Reiser who is wasted in a small role as Stanton, Terry and Bob’s boss. When Reiser isn’t able to make material like this funny, you know you’re in trouble.
“War on Everyone” feels like a jumble of ideas and situations which can’t find a cohesive plot on which to lay them on. It really sucks to say this because I still think McDonagh is a very talented filmmaker, and I have confidence he will bounce back from this misfire quickly. It’s clear he has watched a ton of cop movies and TV shows, but his screenplay feels like he threw a lot of elements in the air and then pinned them down at exactly where they landed.
This movie is being released a couple of weeks after Donald Trump became President, and it’s hard to watch it without thinking of how he has treated various ethnicities throughout the world (Muslims and Mexicans in particular). It’s hard to laugh at or with Bob and Terry as they spout off their objections of criminals based on the race or background as we are forced to deal with a new era of politics, so the timing of this movie’s release is unfortunate. Still, had it been released before all the Trump hoopla, I’m not sure it would have made much of a difference.
There are a number of great black comedies worth checking out like Martin Scorsese’s “After Hours” or Jody Hill’s “Observe and Report,” which coincidentally co-stars Pena, and they are far more worth your time than “War on Everyone.”
* ½ out of * * * *