Terry (Alexander Skarsgard) and Bob (Michael Pena) are cops in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who have gotten the sense that their time on the force is running out. They close cases, but they're nearly as awful as the criminals they're supposedly cracking down on: drinking and drug use, unnecessary force, bribes, etc. Their latest scheme: rip off $1m in drug money from a local crime lord, James Mangan (Theo James), and retire on it.
War on Everyone's primary problem is that McDonagh's grasp on tone is missing. Calvary, in particular, exhibited an incredibly subtle maneuvering between drama and hints of wry, bone-dry comedy. War on Everyone feels more like a parody of McDonagh's previous work (or perhaps that of his more famous brother Martin, who wrote and directed In Bruges) than the real thing. At the heart of this issue are the characters of Terry and Bob, who are both genuinely reprehensible people. It could be argued that War resembles The Guard in many ways, but Brendan Gleeson's character in that film wasn't truly racist, or an atrocious police officer. Too much of McDonagh's humor here is predicated on the notion that the viewer will like Terry and Bob enough to laugh along with them, which fundamentally knocks the film off balance. Increased shading of their personas as the film continues alleviates the problem slightly, and there are moments when both Skarsgard and Pena hit the right notes, but for the most part their supposed antics are cringeworthy.
It doesn't help that War on Everything hardly has any visual personality. The Guard and Calvary didn't appear to be particularly expensive movies, and Calvary may have had the benefit of a beautiful setting, but War on Everything has a decidedly cheap look to it. Most of the sets and locations have zero atmosphere or character to them, which makes the movie feel artificial as a whole, and untethers the characters from any sort of reality. Compounded with their ability to get away with anything, including criminal behavior (Terry drunkenly smashing into neighborhood cars on his way to visit Bob), or just silly (flying to Iceland to track down a missing perp), the movie lacks a foundation for the audience to bounce its expectations off of for the jokes. Is this essentially a cartoon movie where anything can happen, or do Terry and Bob occupy a relatively rational world where certain rules will apply even if their ability to get away with their behavior seems supernatural?
There are a few brights spots in the murk. Tessa Thompson is mostly wasted as the ex-girlfriend of a perp that Terry and Bob bust. Terry takes an interest, and the early scenes they share together are oddly sweet and sexy, and a brief scene where Terry becomes fixated on a painting on her wall feels like an exchange out of the movie I would've hoped to see from McDonagh. Malcolm Barrett gives a good performance as a slightly smarter low-level perp that Terry and Bob try to use in their robbery, although he has a subplot later in the movie involving a trans woman that becomes hard to parse between McDonagh's understanding of trans relationships being misinformed, or Terry and Max again being slightly awful. Yet, all the movie manages to culminate in is a shootout in a warehouse where unsavory pornography is filmed, featuring characters on various facades used in the films. It's a perfect summary of the film's problems: violent, almost amusing, sort of interesting, without much thought put into it.
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