Movie News & Reviews

Too much going on in "War"

I was carded on my way into see "War," the new and fairly violent Jason Statham-Jet Li movie.

I guess you're supposed to be flattered when someone cards you once you're of age to partake in whatever vice you're pursuing, but as a 25-year-old, being mistaken for a potential 16-year-old doesn't really do anything for me. Frankly, if a 16-year-old looks like me, then I feel bad for the 16-year-old. That kid looks like he needs to take a three-day nap.

I imagine this carding thing is part of some policy where anyone who looks like they could be within 10 years of 17 has to be checked before being admitted to an R-rated movie. And in fairness, America would collapse within days if a few teenagers managed to slip into a mediocre action movie. We've got to protect these young minds at all costs. If we can just prevent today's youth from seeing a dude get his head chopped off or a stripper's bare chest until they've made 17 complete orbits of the sun, we can rest easy with the knowledge this latest generation's going to be just fine.

And maybe it'll get them all kinds of pumped to finally be able to see thoroughly not-very-good movies like "War." The pairing of Statham and Li should lead to a super high ratio of kicking to asses, and the movie does start out strong, jumping into a San Francisco dockside shootout with FBI agent Statham and his partner in pursuit of Li, an elusive international assassin.

Li escapes again, then returns to murder Statham's partner and family. Bad times. Especially for Statham, who obsesses over Li for three years until the assassin emerges from hiding to incite a gang war between the Yakuza and the Triads.

You may be familiar with that "play both sides against each other until they destroy themselves" plot from such movies as "Last Man Standing," "Fistful of Dollars," "Yojimbo," or the Dashiell Hammett story "Red Harvest." It's a good plot, but it's a complicated one, made even webbier in "War" by throwing the FBI into the mix of two rival gangs fighting it out over two priceless statuettes, kind of like in that other Hammett story, "The Maltese Falcon."

And really, it's way too much to cram into a 103-minute movie.

"War's" big problem is its blandness. It's got lots of fights, but they're never as spectacular as Statham or Li's other work (and perhaps its biggest crime is not allowing the two to duke it out till a short sequence at the movie's very end). It's got enough characters to cover the entire population of San Francisco, from the main guys to the crime bosses to their lieutenants to the various FBI agents Statham bosses around, and also his family and those of the ganglords'--and with such a broad cast, there's no time left to give them much personality.

Without that, Li's coldblooded manipulation of the two sides doesn't mean a whole lot. There's not even the time to show the gangs doing the heinous things that might motivate Li to want to romperstomp them so bad. Is he just taking a bold anti-gang stance? What's his deal?

Perhaps he's upset by "War's" dialogue, which ranges from meh to ultra-obvious. After Statham's pursuit of Li has gone on for three years, do we really need his wife to outright tell him "Your obsession with this man has already cost you our marriage"? Really? Does the writer truly think we won't pick up on the fact they're divorced? Because I'd have thought the fact Statham was calling her from a different home because they no longer live together made that pretty clear.

On the upside, action movies don't need tons of talkings when it's delivering the beatings, and "War" has plenty of those, right up through a double twist ending that may be the first original moment it's got going. I'm not really down with the twist ending anymore, but "War" is the rare case where a clever final act helps redeem the middling stuff that came before it. That's not enough to make it good, but at least it helps you forget how much better a movie with Statham and Li could have been.

Grade: B-