|'Non-comedic actors can work well in Comedies but relying on three for your three central roles feels ambitious. Skarsgård, Peña and Theo James are not noted for their ability to have audiences rolling in the aisles'|
John Michael McDonagh has been carving a nice niche for himself as a super-arrogant purveyor of righteously-indignant, sharp-tongued Comedy, that manages to both have something to say and scripting nous enough to make you laugh whilst it says it. The Guard had problems, and wasn’t quite sharp enough, but he seemed to have honed his craft to a fine art in Calvary, a film which bit as hard as it chuckled.
It’s a surprise then to find that War On Everyone is a slack, occasionally dull failure, a film which does not know whether it wants to be a pastiche or a parody of 70s Cop Thrillers, or something more in the vein of McDonagh’s earlier works. Like every offering that doesn’t know what it wants to be, War On Everyone ends up as neither, failing in its bid to offer both sharp laughs and cop thrills.
Casting is a significant part of the problem. Non-comedic actors can work well in Comedies but relying on three for your three central roles feels ambitious. Alexander Skarsgård, Michael Peña and Theo James are not noted for their ability to have audiences rolling in the aisles and all too soon reveal themselves to be of the opinion that they should be the straight man of the piece. Peña fares the best, but it’s a relative ‘best’. Caleb Landry Jones in a major supporting turn is wildly and horribly misjudged in both direction and performance.
As the plot progresses - loosely; Terry (Skarsgård) and Bob (Peña) are chasing a crooked $1 million which Mangan (James) has obtained through ill-defined means - McDonagh shows desire and willingness to bring in darkness, as he did with The Guard and Calvary, but here it feels an afterthought and slightly misplaced. Child abuse isn’t something you can get away with paying lip service to, and its place in the plot, to drive the finale, makes little narrative or tonal sense. The film, as the title suggests, wants to have an un-PC pop at everyone but McDonagh points out the comedic weakness in that approach by pulling his punches on topics he’s clearly deemed off-limits. Against such problems, moaning about plot advancement feels minor, but there’s a section where Terry and Bob catch-up with another character that’s both a tremendous coincidence and shows the duo to be tremendously incompetent at the same time.
McDonagh, not content with trying to marry genres, also tries to show off his intellect, recalling some of The Guard's odder dichotomies. Terry’s wife, Delores (Stephanie Sigman) is a well-read hairdresser, quoting Baudelaire and arguing with her husband about the origin of famous philosophical wisdoms. Again: there’s no earthly reason for it to be here, apart from to remind you that McDonagh has read a few books. It doesn’t fit into the flm’s ethos, interests or subject, but, then again, there’s a lot here which you can say the same about and the script isn’t fun enough to hide it.
War On Everyone is released in UK cinemas on Friday 7th October 2016.