The idea of "War" is far more pleasant than actually sitting through "War." Pitting Jason Statham vs. Jet Li in an action smorgasbord is a delicious concept, with both men in the prime of their knuckle-sandwich career. It's a downright shame that the resulting film is an unforgivable, horrifically knotted bore that wastes so much promise in the hunt for mediocrity.
Rogue (Jet Li) is an icy, unstoppable assassin pulled into a scheme that has him playing two sides of a Yakuza crime family war. Jack Crawford (Jason Statham) is a FBI agent on the hunt for Rogue, looking to catch the man responsible for killing his partner years earlier and ruining his life. With Jack and his squad getting closer to Rogue, the hitman steps up his assault, hoping to manipulate the situation in a way that leaves him the only man left standing.
The thing to realize about "War" is that this is far from a simple-minded exercise in cinematic hurt. The script by first-time writers Lee Anthony Smith and Gregory J. Bradley is an elaborate construct, trying to wedge beloved action formula inside a complex mystery surrounding Rogue and his puppet mastery of the criminal underworld. I applaud the effort of the writers to at least try and up the stakes in a brain-dead genre, but the final cut of the picture looks as though someone pulled it apart in post-production and forgot how the pieces fit. It's not a total mess, but "War" tends to get dizzy trying to keep the plot afloat.
Music video veteran Philip G. Atwell doesn't so much direct "War" as much as he fights to hold it together, hiding behind a thick wall of hack visual tweaks to keep the attention away from logic and quality. Atwell is pretty much useless throughout the feature, numbly arranging the scenes from a newbie helmer playbook (including a glass-shattering finale) and generally lacking the nerve to stamp a real personality on the whole endeavor. Editor Scott Richter makes matters worse by chopping the film to pieces, constructing fight sequences that make little sense and rob "War" of the only thing it had in its corner: crisp brutality.
Statham and Li do what they can with the roles, but both actors seem a little confused in their performances. However, relying on natural charm (or in Statham's case, natural growl), the two brawlers make little piles of joy in the middle of this misfire. It's too bad "War" keeps Li and Statham apart for most of the film, sending them on different adventures, leading up to a final combat scene that comes far too late to really charge up the audience.
There is a twist ending to "War" that defies description. Perhaps in a tighter film, the ending, which requires an unholy amount of suspension of disbelief, would've clicked just fine. In "War," it just gums up the works further, requiring audience members to pay careful attention to everything that's transpired between the characters during the run of the film. The cruel trick here is that the movie itself isn't worth the interest it so desperately requires.
Li and Statham are two fine actors, and they've survived a terrible film together before (2001's "The One"). I doubt "War" will cause much damage to their careers, but it breaks my heart that there's not a single person in Hollywood who can properly exploit the danger and appeal of these guys.
For further online adventure, please visit brianorndorf.com