In case you were ever wondering what a police procedural envisioned through cocaine and vodka filtered glasses would look like, John Michael McDonagh’s War on Everyone, is it. It’s almost as if he just lined up various 70’s buddy cop television series on a wall and threw darts to develop the storyboards. Mix that together with a peculiar and potentially unhealthy obsession with Glen Campbell and you have the formula for a unique and surprisingly irreverent black comedy that turns a genre on it’s head and reinvigorates parody.
Following Albuquerque detectives Bob Bolano (Michael Pena) and Terry Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard), as they navigate the paradoxical good cop/bad cop continuum with dry moxy. Bob and Terry are two apathetic officers, whose effectiveness lies in their loyalty to one another and their reliance on greedy self preservation. Bob has a family, complete with a beautiful wife and two spoiled kids. Terry is a bit of a loner, whose only familial ties are with Bob. The two devil may care badass law-men, spend their days shaking down scumbags and lining their pockets with the narcotics and cash of cold hard criminals. Bob is the ideas man and Terry is the big, lovable and reckless idiot. It’s almost like if Michael Bay’s titular characters in Bad Boys were written by middle schoolers. The film opens with the two running down a mime in their 70’s Monte Carlo. Flash forward to their contentious meeting with the department captain (Paul Reiser), as he attempts to chastise the duo on their use of excessive force, which ultimately becomes an exercise in futility.
Bob and Terry, scoff at the potential for termination and continue about their daily business where they repeatedly and flamboyantly, break every possible rule officers could possibly have in place. This is a nihilistic buddy comedy to an infinite degree, and it’s full of overt references that both pay homage to, and parody some of the classic 70’s procedurals, while casting a massively offensive and sardonic shadow over the whole story. Bob and Terry begin their investigation into a possible caper that could lead to them squeezing some small timers for a big payday, but the plan goes awry when their Huggie Bear-esque informant, Reggie (Malcolm Barrett), leaves the two high and dry thanks to a larger scheme headed by a nefarious puppet master running the operation. The buddies dig deeper to unveil the dastardly brit that conned them (Theo James), and seek vengeance on pretty much everyone in the process.
McDonagh’s cleverly depraved script hypes up the raucous action and stingy humor and plays like a contemporary, far more cynical, Starsky and Hutch. The film is surprisingly stylistic and voraciously mean spirited–with a multitude of layered jokes that are as self referential as they are hilarious. This may not be McDonagh’s best work, as he soldiers on with a more heavy handed approach than in his previous entries, like the bleak and heartfelt Calvary, but he manages to provide a unique perspective on a dwindling genre with satirical deference. McDonagh proves again that he has a knack for piercing dialogue and incongruous hijinks, forcing the audience to take stock of their moral compass.
Both Michael Pena and Alexander Skarsgard are brilliantly dubious as they step out of their typical stints as second fiddles, to garner the spotlight. The script wastes some of the considerable chemistry the pair have, with some scattered plot devices, but this film is not about the story. The narrative here is nothing more than a macguffin, or vehicle by which to carry out the movies genuinely unscrupulous motives with glee. The rest of the cast is balanced around our main duo and are all charismatic side characters that help ground this impetuously outlandish piece of work. Both Tessa Thompson and Theo James are solid, if not strangely stoic given the material.
McDonagh’s War On Everyone is daffy enough to keep the scathing connotations just beneath the surface. Realistically, this is an intrinsic indictment on current American cultural concerns, from an Irishman’s perspective–at one point even casually spouting “This is a police department, We’re surrounded by big fat racist pigs.” Even something as on the nose as that line becomes seemingly nuanced thanks to the scattershot tone, and complete upheaval of authenticity. The one carry over from his previous projects, is the brazenly insensitive attitudes of the leads, however in this case, there isn’t much heart to underline the more disconcerting character flaws these two self destructive mad men display. Maybe this isn’t as deep as McDonagh has gone in the past, but this surface level, surreally mean spirited black comedy–is crazy fun and completely bonkers. It’s an amalgamation of different eras and stories, which it then proceeds to light on fire and urinate on the ashes, with complete disregard.
3.65/5 Not Bad Bro