O BROTHERS, WHERE ART THOU?

Among the many siblings working today in film are Irish brothers Martin and John Michael McDonagh. Unlike most moviemaking family members—to name a few of at least 15 such examples: the Coens, the Farellys, the Wachowskis, and the Tavianis—the McDonaghs have worked independently of each other (like Ridley and Tony Scott), each with great success.

Martin McDonagh’s best film so far is his third, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. His first two also received considerable acclaim—In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths. John Michael’s two earlier films, The Guard and Calvary, created significant anticipation for a follow-up, especially since the writer/director said he envisioned the first two films part of a trilogy, each starring Brendan Gleeson.

Unfortunately, Gleeson is not in John Michael’s third film, War on Everyone (2016), nor is the movie set in Ireland, like its predecessors. The good news? The third film of the proposed trilogy is still in the works. The bad news? War on Everyone, unlike brother Martin’s prize-winning third effort, is a major comedown.

That’s not the same as saying it’s a bad film. In many ways, it recalls the zany blend of comedy and violence that earmarked Martin’s In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths. What it lacks, though, is any real depth or thematic substance. The Guard was also funny, and the oddball pairing of Gleeson’s roguish Irish cop and Don Cheadle’s straitlaced FBI agent imbued each with credibility. It’s impossible to not like them.
Not so their counterparts in War.

Alexander Skarsgård and Michael Peña are unlikely buddies, playing two New Mexico cops who make their own rules for their own motives. They booze, snort and steal whatever they can get their hands on, but they’re dedicated to taking down the really bad guys. Neither character is even remotely credible, but they’re fun to watch—most of the time.

Absent the subtlety of Calvary and The Guard, John Michael McDonagh seems to be drawing on his brother’s first two films, particularly Seven Psychopaths. War has sketch after sketch of Terry (Skarsgård) and Bob (Peña) cracking jokes with each other or their respective women, in between clobbering bad guys, with whom they also exchange clever repartée.

The opening sequence sets the tone and style: Terry and Bob pursue a mime (yes, a mime!) who has a bag of cocaine. The poor mime gets his comeuppance (as should most mimes) while Terry and Bob get the cocaine.

Their police chief (Paul Reiser) reads them the riot act, as he does throughout, but the boys continue on their merry way. Bob’s a family man with two kids and a wife. He is devoted to them though they’re often the butt(s) of his crude comments.
Terry drinks constantly, drives recklessly and has a nice, intelligent girlfriend, Jackie Hollis (Tessa Thompson). In other words, Terry isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, but he’s a nice guy.

The major villain is ruthless English nobleman Lord James Mangan (Theo James), the epitome of class and wealth, who’s into drugs and horse-breeding. His right-hand man is Russell Birdwell (Caleb Landry Jones), a foppish dandy, who wears an eye-patch after Terry delivers a vicious but well-deserved beating.

Before the satisfying shoot-out between the unlikely heroes and the luckless bad guys, nearly everyone in the film gets a chance to show off their literary backgrounds. Lord Mangan references Yukio Mishima before beheading one of Terry and Bob’s informants; Bob and wife Delores (Stephanie Sigman) debate the merits of Simone de Beauvoir. Jackie reminisces with Terry about a former lover who wrote “a well-regarded monograph on Andre Petain.” Terry’s idol is Glen Campbell, whose songs punctuate the film’s segments, much like John Denver’s tunes underscored the mayhem in Ben Wheatley’s superior Free Fire.

The quips are nonstop, the characters outrageous, but War on Everyone ultimately lacks soul or cohesion. Entertaining as they are, the parts do not make a satisfying whole.

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