Finally, it is time to let police brutality be fun again. We learned in the 1980s the more reckless the enforcement of justice, the greater the deterrent effect will be. Sadly, we have lost track of that wisdom in recent years, but British filmmaker John Michael McDonagh brings it all flooding back in the tongue-in-cheek War on Everyone (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.
Bob Bolaño and Terry Monroe are cops who have done suspiciously well for themselves and dare anyone to call them on it. At least they are scrupulously liberal—they never discriminate when killing drugs dealers and confiscating their loot—so their boss, Lt. Gerry Stanton covers for them to an extent. Through traditional police work, the partners get wind of large scale heist in the works, but rather than foil it, they plan to hijack the spoils for themselves. However, they do not yet realize the score has been masterminded by James Mangan (also the name of the lead character in McDonagh’s short The Second Death), an expatriate British lord and gangster.
While putting the squeeze on various low-level accomplices, Monroe manages to steal away the girlfriend of the gang’s Quaker getaway driver. Unfortunately, their primary snitch double-crosses them, forcing them to follow his trail to Iceland. They continue to flail around like bulls in the proverbial china shop, unaware Lord Mangan is about to get serious.
Basically, War-on is like a more grounded version of the vintage 1980s cult sitcom Sledgehammer! Just like the short-lived TV series, its broad satire backfires, making the Lethal Weapon attitudes and violence look appealing instead of unreasonable (also thanks in no small measure to Lorne Balfe’s evocative old school funky themes and riffs).
Despite being the ostensible leads, Michael Peña and Alexander Skarsgård function (gamely enough) as straight-men for the madness around them (some being of their making, some not). Frankly, Paul Reiser gets the biggest laughs as the harried Lieutenant and McDonagh regular (going back to Second Death) David Wilmot does his Irish Marty Feldman thing as reluctant informer Pádraic Power. Tessa (“Creed”) Thompson and Stehpanie (“Miss Bala”) Sigman add energy and provide the only remotely intelligent presences as Monroe’s new lover Jackie Hollis and Bolaño’s wife Delores, respectively.
Although nowhere near as rich and satisfying as McDonagh’s The Guard and Calvaary, War-on is breezy, humorous, and not the least bit convincing as an act of social commentary, which is rather happy news from a viewer’s perspective. It is also one of the few films that spends significant time in both Albuquerque and Iceland, so it has that going for it too. Recommended for fans of 1970s and 1980s cop movies, War on Everyone opens this Friday (2/3) in New York, at the Cinema Village.