Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 43 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Sequences of Strong Bloody Violence, Sexuality/Nudity and Language
Directed by: Philip G. Atwell
Written by: Lee Anthony Smith & Gregory J. Bradley
Starring: Jet Li, Jason Statham, John Lone, Mathew St. Patrick, Sung Kang, Luis Guzman, Devon Aoki, Ryo Ishibashi & Mark Cheng
In the summer of 2007, I worked at a movie theater. One of the benefits of this rather crappy job was plenty of free movies. I distinctly remember walking past the huge banner for WAR on a regular basis. I also remember arguing with co-workers about whether Jason Statham or Jet Li would win in a fight (for me, it was all about Statham). However, the rest of my memories about the film are a bit hazy. I remember that I saw it and there was a discussion afterwards, but I could not tell you much about the movie itself. Seeing that I just finished watching Statham’s ridiculously fun stint as transporter Frank Martin, I decided that it was time to revisit this forgotten little showdown between action stars from the West and East. It turns out that the resulting film is a generic little flick with a thoroughly forgettable plot, a few good action sequences, and not much else.
FBI agent John Crawford (Jason Statham) has spent the last three years of his life obsessing over Rogue (Jet Li), a deadly former CIA assassin turned freelance hitman. Rogue killed Crawford’s partner and the rugged agent wants his shot at revenge. Crawford’s opportunity has finally come knocking, because Rogue is back in town and he’s playing the Triads and Yakuza against one another. It’s not clear why the violent assassin wants a bloody gang war, but bodies are piling up in the streets as a result. Crawford begins to engage in a fiery game of cat-and-mouse with Rogue that only man will walk away from.
On the positive side of things, WAR is a good-looking film. The visuals are slick and I really like the film’s use of color, especially when that color is bright red as Yakuza swords begin flying. Jason Statham is essentially playing himself once again…but this time with a badge. It’s always fun to watch Statham do his thing, but Jet Li really receives more to do as the mysterious Rogue. For a movie that was pitting these two big action stars against each another, one might hope for plenty of one-on-one fight scenes and chase sequences. Prepare to be disappointed, because a majority of WAR’s plot is Jet Li pitting the rival gangs against each other and Crawford coming in to investigate the crime scenes. The two characters aren’t even in the same room until well over halfway into the running time. The resulting film is a big missed opportunity.
As far as every non-Statham and non-Li character is concerned, they all blend into a generic mass of “who cares?” The gangsters serve as walking targets and the FBI agents are merely plot devices. Their dialogue is ridden with very heavy-handed exposition, while Statham maintains a decent sense of humor in his lines. WAR’s action sequences are quite good and easily the best part of the whole film, but they pale in comparison to what one might hope for in a movie like this. Sure, there’s a raid here, a car chase there, and an obligatory final showdown. However, the pacing frequently lags and I didn’t find myself as invested in this plot or excited by this movie as much as I should have been. The final third amps up the momentum significantly, but still winds up being disappointing in its final minutes. As soon as the credits began to roll, I found myself thinking, “Seriously? That’s it?”
WAR is a prime example of what not to do when pitting two big name action stars against one another. Instead of being a big bad-ass showdown movie that was promised, the film is a rather generic cops-and-gangsters flick. The two leads, a good soundtrack (that probably deserved a better movie), slick visuals, and a handful of solid action scenes keep the film from being terrible. In the end, WAR is just underwhelming and really should have been something more. I would love to see a TRANSPORTER level of fun thrown into this showdown or even just a better script behind it. Instead, WAR is a painfully generic, middle-of-the-road experience.