The best way to describe War on Everyone is that it’s a film about a pair of lovable arseholes. Alexander Skarsgard and Michael Pena are a couple of dodgy rozzers who abuse, drink, batter and blackmail their way around the criminal underworld as much for personal gain than to catch any crooks. It sounds like the setup for an unbearably tense thriller by Michael Mann, except we instead get one of the most irresistibly funny buddy cop films of recent years.
Writer and director John Michael McDonagh produces a script that crackles and pops with fabulously funny dialogue. Humor that is as black as an oil slick, as we laugh at police brutality, violence as a whole and sexual perversion. Skarsgard and Pena are perfect as the loveable bastard buddies. Like the two horrible high school jocks who against all good sense were given some position of influence.
In War on Everyone, there is a clear homage to late seventies culture in its New Mexico setting but its actually closer to the buddy cop movies of the 1980’s and 1990’s such as Lethal Weapon and 48 Hours. Revelling in the violence and caustic, cutting, sarcastic humour. Its carried off successfully though with that well-known trope of a couple of rogues with hearts of gold. Yes, they’re up to their necks in sewage but they can be nice…when they’re not drinking, fighting and verbally abusing random people. Visually, McDonagh does a tremendous job and has a flair for comedic and action set pieces and for a good hour this was a terrifically funny and entertaining film with several laugh out loud moments.
Moreover, the central performances are strong too. Skarsgard and Pena, as Detectives Monroe and Bolano, are an entertaining double act. Skarsgard is gruff and lays it on thick with slapstick comedy as the punching bag of the duo. Pena though is particularly excellent in that effortless way he always is as the more cerebral of the pair. Constantly correcting his less learned partner and riffing off a parade of wisecracks and creative usage of fruity language. Pena, is one of those performers who could read a phonebook out loud for ninety minutes and make it a passable film.
War on Everyone isn’t a film without flaw by any means though. Its lack of women for one. Bar Tessa Thompson this was a very high testosterone film with the ladies little more than scantily clad props.The plot also is loose to say the least. That is to say sometimes it goes totally AWOL. In the last thirty minutes the film wades into more serious territory out of absolutely nowhere. No context, no clues and no justification considering the tone of the rest of the film. It doesn’t work and the plot folds like a deck of cards.
Theo James is also lacking as a primary villain. A British lord and businessmen who seems own half of Albuquerque. Why a spoilt blue blood from the home counties is doubling as a pseudo-mafia don in the dusty sprawl of New Mexico is never really established and he seems to be impotent and inadequate in the face of two far more imposing and impressive adversaries. I would have had far more fun with Calab Landry Jones’ secondary antagonist as the main total bad guy. His twitchy performance and unusual look like something from a Stanley Kubrick vehicle. It was like watching a missing fourth Droog from A Clockwork Orange.
Still despite its significant shortcomings – Shane Black’s The Nice Guys (2016) is a far superior film – War on Everyone is still a frantic bit of fun that doesn’t outstay its welcome and more than passes the time.