War (2007) / Action-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for strong bloody violence, sexuality/nudity and language
Running time: 103 min.
Cast: Jet Li, Jason Statham, John Lone, Devon Aoki, Andrea Roth, Ryo Ishibashi, Sung Kang, Luis Guzman, Saul Rubinek, Matthew St. Patrick, Nadine Velazquez
Director: Philip G. Atwell
Screenplay: Lee Anthony Smith, Gregory J. Bradley
Review published September 30, 2007
The title alone suggests that the makers of this film probably think that casting action stars Jet Li (Fearless, Unleashed) and Jason Statham (Crank, Chaos) in a movie will be sufficient to get their fans out to see it. Perhaps so. After seeing the movie, I'd say that with a little more effort, not only in the title, but in every effort of this production, what's a so-so movie could have been good with a better sense of direction. There are some nifty story twists in this script by Smith and Bradley, which, with the right director, could have seemed like revelations rather than gimmicks. Alas, music video director Atwell just doesn't have quite enough juice to delve any deeper with the material than surface pleasures. Only the action, well choreographed by veteran Corey Yuen (Transporter 2, Huadu Chronicles), rises above standard junk cinema fare.
In San Francisco (Vancouver fills in), loose cannon FBI agent Jack Crawford (Statham) is out to finally bring to justice a man he believes to be a deadly assassin named Rogue (Li), who years back killed his partner and his family in cold blood. The "war" of the title refers to a feud between two Asien entities in the area, the Triad presence in Chinatown led by Chang (Lone, Rush Hour 2) and the Yakuza dominated gangsters looked over by Shir (Ishibashi, The Grudge).
Silly, cartoonish characters abound, filled with thespians that don't exactly add nuance to their parts. Devon Aoki (DOA, Sin City) plays the Yakuza daughter with bland indifference (supposedly a comic relief part that never gels), trying her best to act tough but alluring, while achieving neither result. Li flows through his part looking slightly bemused at the goings on, while Statham is his usual bombastic self, outraged at pretty much any development that comes his way. It's hard to imagine such a hothead (and one who frequently ignores all forms of laws in his attempts to enforce them) ever becoming a senior agent in the FBI -- he's an absolutely terrible agent, husband, and human being -- and he's the good guy!
War will probably suit the demands of the audience for which it is intended -- undiscriminating action aficionados. Li and Statham do well in the physical arena, even if their acting chops leave much to be desired, but with a script written at this level and direction that doesn't capture much nuance, even the best of thespians would have had a tough time pulling out a believable performance. The story itself, which seems like a convoluted version of Yojimbo (or A Fistful of Dollars), except with bumbling law enforcement presence, is fairly straightforward most of the way, tossing in a few late quarter developments in order to try to surprise us. If they do surprise, it's only because by this point, we're pretty much not bothering following the plot, largely due tot he fact that the screenwriters don't really have much of one to brag about. For genre nuts and Lit/Statham aficionados only.
©2007 Vince Leo