Written and directed by John Michael McDonagh the buddy cop War on Everyone is essentially an American-style movie made with British and Irish money and production companies – usually, it is the other way round. War on Everyone is a more mainstream effort from the director of The Guard and Calvary and a gateway into McDonagh’s style of humor.
Terry Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård) and Bob Bolaño (Michael Peña) are corrupt police detectives in Albuquerque, New Mexico and keep getting suspended. The situation is so bad that their superior officer (Paul Reiser) threatens their jobs if he receives one more complaint about them. Despite this Terry and Bob continue to stake down every criminal in the city in the hope of making a big score, but end up crossing someone they cannot threaten.
War of Everyone is similar to a buddy comedy released earlier this year The Nice Guys: both movies have a duo where one is a family man and the other is a single man who lets his fist do the talking. Both movies also have a 70s motif – although The Nice Guys is more overt with this – it was set in the 70s and had a story involving pornography and the automotive industry. The War of Everyone’s 70s references are in its visuals, like the cars, clothing, hairstyles and editing tricks like the side swipes as well as a quick mention of Starkey and Hutch. War on Everyone has a contemporary setting and jokes have a modern reference, ranging from gaming to ISIS.
The main duo also have shades of Riggs and Murtaugh in the Lethal Weapon series. Bob is a family man, and his home life is what Murtaugh’s would be like if he were an asshole to his kids. Terry is the Riggs’ character and like Riggs Terry lives alone, has huge personal demons and drinks to cover it. Also like Riggs in Lethal Weapon 3, Terry develops a love interest in the form of Jackie (Creed‘s Tessa Thompson), one of the pairs’ victims and he is able to open up to young woman. Terry is made out to be the more sympathetic of the two – having a certain level of morality – while Bob is a hypocrite: complaining if anyone makes racial slurs against him, but has no problem making jokes at the expense of people from African-American and Irish heritage.
Skarsgård and Peña are A great team-up, and they are characters who match some of the best in the genre. Peña has solid comedy pedigree in movies like Ant-Man and Tower Heist and he is suitable as the jerk to everyone but his wife. Skarsgård is an imposing figure – he already showed his action abilities in the underrated The Legend of Tarzan and in War of Everyone is certainly believable as a man capable of being able to knock someone out with one punch. They have a strong rapport with each other, and some of their exchanges have echoes of Jules and Vincent in Pulp Fiction – their interactions are some of the funniest moments in the movie.
There is also a strong supporting cast like Thompson, Stephanie Sigman and Paul Reiser as the police lieutenant who constantly has to chew Terry and Bob out. Theo James is decent enough in his role as the villain, a posh Englishman who uses his legitimate businesses to cover his illegal activities. However, the character was underdeveloped – he is shown to be taking crack and heroin and has no problem functioning as a high ranking criminal; he is even able to box in this condition. The character also seemed to be written as a young man who is playing a gangster, but the movie later shows his family – which leads to thoughts that the character was originally intended for an older actor.
Caleb Landy Jones, best known for playing Banshee in X-Men: First Class was the stand out character from the villains – he was a creepy presence when he first appears with his long hair and made worst when he makes statements that show he’s a pervert. Malcolm Barrett and David Wilmot (a McDonagh regular) were also note worthy as a couple of local crooks – even though one of them is an Irishman – that have to act as Terry and Bob’s informants.
As a writer/director McDonagh is known for having a no holds barred approach and willing to take on everything and anything. His targets include all races and creeds – takes aim against Islam and ISIS – which is just asking for trouble in this day and age with jokes that could be considered inappropriate. This type of humor could offend in the wrong hands, but McDonagh ensures War on Everything is on the right side of the funny/offensive line. The dialogue is similar to his first movie The Guard which was praised by critics but was really overrated – War on Everything is, fortunately, a more consistently funny movie. McDonagh also includes some visual gags like some women in burkas playing tennis and his interest in religion shines through by having a minor criminal also being a Quaker.
While McDonagh makes a funny movie the jokes take precedence over the plot. There is not much direction as Terry and Bob bumble they way through crossing a dangerous criminal his enterprise. It is arguably the point of the movie as the cops are just looking to make money but the plotting is at times confusing regarding what characters are actually doing as they find people and see how they connect. Great buddy cop movies like Hot Fuzz, the Lethal Weapon series, Beverly Hills Cop, 21 and 22 Jump Street etc… still have engaging plots to go with their action and comedy. The premise of corrupt cops shaking down local criminals could easily have worked as a Coen Brothers or Tarantino crime caper, but McDonagh should have developed his story more before filming.
McDonagh’s love for philosophy also makes a presence in War on Everything as characters discuss ideas, facts, and books. We get it, you’re a smart, well-read man Mr. McDonagh; you don’t also need to show off. McDonagh takes the movie down a really dark Avenue with one of its subplots – there is nothing wrong with a comedy having a serious moment or some levity but War on Everything took on a subject that is too dark even for a black comedy.
War on Everything starts out as an energetic buddy comedy that is both classic 70s and modern at the same time. There is a great central partnership with Skarsgård and Peña in the main roles and consistently funny lines throughout, but the thin plotting makes the movie a little tiresome.