War

War

*

Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

"War, war is stupid", sang Culture Club, "and people are stupid". On paper, at least, pairing the frequently misused Jet Li with action sensation Jason Statham is a brilliant idea. Li is usually wasted in his appearances in films made outwith Hong Kong (in particular Lethal Weapon 4 and Cradle 2 The Grave, and Statham (discovered by Guy Ritchie) has sufficient star power to get a sequel (Transporter 2) and allegedly a key role in a projected remake (or 'reimagining') of Death Race 2000.

Neither actor is well served by War. War is stupid. It's lazy, by-the-numbers action film-making, a heaped helping of cliches and stereotypes assembled into a clumsy narrative that aims for exciting twists but instead leaves one feeling slightly sick.

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It's worth noting that War hasn't received press screenings in either the UK or the US. While not always a bad sign, this often signals a lack of confidence in a picture, particularly among wiser audiences whose filmgoing decisions are influenced by critical buzz.

Statham is Jack Crawford, an FBI agent investigating San Francisco's neatly delineated Asian gangland. On one side, the Triads, led by John Lone as Chang, on the other, the "Japanese Yakuza", led from Japan by Ishabashi Ryo's Shiro, through his proxy (and daughter) played by Devon Aoki (Suki in 2 Fast 2 Furious). In the middle, a mysterious former CIA contract killer, Rogue, played by Jet Li.

Rogue is a 'ghost', a mystery, denied by the CIA (naturally), noted for his signature titanium shell casings and depleted uranium bullets. He's calm and efficient, and maintains his anonymity with frequent plastic surgery. Almost killed by Crawford's partner, he seeks revenge, and Crawford in turn seeks revenge, and so on and so forth.

Now, to be fair, War might be trying to say something about the futility of vengeance, but it ultimately speaks to the dearth of originality in mainstream Hollywood. A debut feature for writers Lee Anthony Smith and Gregory J Bradley, War would seem to suggest that the way to get ahead in Tinseltown is to slavishly copy what has gone before. It's a shame that it's probably true. Directed by Philip G Atwell, who should know better having helmed an episode of the almost infinitely better The Shield, it suffers from all the things that afflict the modern action movie.

It's set in San Francisco, but was largely shot in Vancouver, so the car chase does have a cable car (briefly) but none of the rolling hills that Bullitt and Zodiac featured. There's the usual rookie cop for expository purposes, and while nobody's two days from retirement there are all the usual interjurisdictional nonsenses and grotesque violations of ordinary procedure - in particular the mention of a long-running television franchise whose abilities would render the whole plot moot in minutes.

Because we've got Triads there are priceless family heirlooms, and with the Yakuza involved they've obviously got a secret swordfighting temple. Since there's two Asian gangs, sword fights are inevitable, but War bravely has numerous scenes subtitled from Chinese and Japanese, rather than dubbing or some other concession to markets outwith the Pacific Rim. Blade has to take some responsibility for ludicrous gangland headquarters, here including a vast car showroom and the almost obligatory strip club, but there are other stereotypical idiocies. Not least of which is the fact that our hero drives a mid Seventies Detroit muscle car, which somehow keeps pace with a hundred thousand dollar German engineered sports convertible. Then there's Crawford's heavy involvement with his job, and the strain it places on his family life (or at least his ability to attend scheduled sports events featuring his offspring).

War isn't new, it isn't clever, and at a hundred odd minutes it isn't too big. It's pedestrian, predictable, and sometimes painful. If forced into a cinema that doesn't have The Bourne Ultimatum, 3:10 To Yuma or The Kingdom to see instead then it will do for those looking for an action fix, but only as a last resort.

As Edwin Starr asked, "War! (huh) What is it good for?". On the evidence, it's fair to say "Absolutely nothing".

Reviewed on: 29 Sep 2007
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War packshot
An FBI agent hunts down the notorious assassin who killed his partner.
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Director: Philip G Atwell

Writer: Lee Anthony Smith, Gregory J Bradley

Starring: Jet Li, Jason Statham, John Lone, Devon Aoki, Luis Guzmán, Saul Rubinek

Year: 2007

Runtime: 103 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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