Film review by: Witney Seibold
“War,” directed by prolific music video director Philip G. Atwell, is a huge stupid mess. I will, however, qualify this below.
First of all, the editing is quicker and wonkier than even a music video. I don’t think there were any actions scenes with shots longer than two seconds. There was even a moment when one character was quickly swinging a sword at another, and there was a cut away then a cut back during the spilt instant it took to swing the sword.
Second, the cast is largely wasted. Some great actors like Luis Guzman and John Lone (yeah, the guy from “The Last Emperor”) are given some ludicrous parts to play. Lone plays the head of the Chinese Triads, and seems to be thinking about his paycheck the whole time.
Third, in a film called “War,” with a poster featuring action hotshots Jet Li and Jason Statham menacingly staring each other down, one would expect to see numerous scenes of the two wailing on each other, fists flying all chop-socky style. We are treated to only one such scene, and it is brief. The titular war is actually a gang war between the San Francisco Yakuza and the San Francisco Triads instigated by Rogue (Li) who is a master hitman hired by both sides. Statham plays the cop who is on Rogue’s tail.
Fourth, when we’re shown a gang hideout, the screen announces that we are in either the “Yakuza District” or the “Triad District.” I know that SF had a Chinatown, but who knew that the criminals got their own districts? Oh well. Forget it, Jake.
Fifth, and I have only seen this done once before in a film (and that film was supremely mediocre video-game film “Wing Commander”), but when a character speaks in another language – say, Japanese – we briefly see the subtitle in Japanese right before it switches over to English, accompanied by an annoying clicking noise that is akin to the spinning train schedules at Grand Central Station. I imagine this is to let people who cannot distinguish between Chinese and Japanese by ear know what the characters are speaking. It was only distracting.
Sixth (and stupidest), the film features a twist ending which reevaluates the characters. It was a stupid twist, and obviously thrown in as a cheap device, and not because it enriches the material. And then, just when you’re sighing your last over the first twist, a second one bursts out of the gate and a) totally invalidates one of the characters’ moral standing and motivations, b) practically makes the first twist unnecessary, and c) gives the viewer stupid-whiplash. It’s a double-stupid twist.
After all this, there is going to be a however.
However, until the twist (which I’m not going to reveal, as finding out what it was is part of the fun this time), “War” is an easy, harmless action flick. Sure the story is banal and predictable, the action scenes are quotidian, and the editing akin to having a bucket placed over your head and battered, but one raised on crappy action thrillers of the 1980s can appreciate the form and nostalgia of it. It’s a clear, capable, and forgettable diversion. The twist is what makes it stand out (in a bad way).