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August 24, 2007 |

By Phillip Stephens | Film | August 24, 2007 |

Action films are some of the strangest to try and review offhand because their success seems to hinge on their ability to preclude thought. The best actioners don’t even try to marry exposition and spectacle, but have just enough plot to occur in sequence; only the very talented or very lucky can balance the two. Ideally, War, starring Jet Li and Jason Statham (talk about a guy who’s found his niche!), would’ve opted for the spectacle, discarding most of the exposition altogether and getting straight to the face-kicking. Alas, War attempted to go the high road — a Face/Off-lite with plot-twists and clunky profundity.

Captain Sneer (Statham) plays FBI Agent Crawford, out for revenge after his partner is murdered by the infamous super-assassin Rogue (Jet LI). After a lengthy absence, Rogue resurfaces in the middle of a bloody war between the Japanese Yakuza and Chinese Triads of San Francisco. Rogue is apparently working for Triad boss Chang (John Lone) to undermine the Yakuza and nab a couple of solid gold horses, but Rogue’s motivations are unclear — he might be playing both sides, but to what end, other than to sow chaos for the fun of it? Crawford pursues, taking time in the interim to scream and murder people.

War, as I said, tries to balance content and spectacle, ending up as much a crime-drama as an action or martial-arts film. Even Jet Li is kept from demonstrating his prolific fisticuffs too much, dispatching various castoffs with guns and swords more than with wushu, making us wonder whether it was really necessary to cast him in the role at all. Statham, meanwhile, can’t muster anything beyond his snarl/sneer/scream shtick, not that he’d have to given the right context, but it fosters neither interest nor sympathy with his character, who, as I’ve said, is ridiculously brutal. Observe:

[Statham leans over mortally wounded, unarmed thug]

Thug: “In Japan you’d be fucking dead!”

Statham: “We’re not in Japan.”

[Shoots mortally wounded, unarmed thug in the face]

Audience: “Oh! Burned! Face! Diss! Pwn’d!”

And that scene speaks pretty well to what War is about: Prodigious though uninteresting violence alongside the inability to rise above rote, clich├ęd action standards. War fleets by uninterestingly, unable or unwilling to provide the true martial arts spectacle it promises. Instead, a pair of hilariously unlikely twists are hurled at the viewer at denouement; I won’t reveal what they are, but it pretty much inverts and discards everything the audience might figuratively cared about for the last 90 minutes for the sake of sheer unpredictability. Sheesh.

Unfortunately, War can’t offer enough visual fun to balance out its many, many ineptitudes — the plot points are dull, the twists inconsequential and, ultimately, distracting. I hate to be so reductive, but really, when you have two screen presences that are almost completely worthless outside of a context of kicking the shit out of each other, just show that for two hours! We’ll fill in the rest ourselves.

Phillip Stephens is the lead critic for Pajiba. He lives in Fayetteville, AR.

Unh! Good God, Y'all!

War / Phillip Stephens

Film | August 24, 2007 |

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