In War on Everyone, Michael Peña and Alexander Skarsgård play the “Bad Cop/ Bad Cop” routine to occasionally hilarious effect. Much like director John Michael McDonagh’s 2011 breakout film The Guard (or Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orelans), it’s undeniably fun to watch authority figures not give a fuck. As the title suggests, there’s a nihilistic streak in the film, which is where much of the humour is derived.
Anyone who watched HBO’s Eastbound and Down or saw Michael Peña just about steal Ant-Man last year knows he has comedy chops, yet Bob (Peña) is practically the straight man to Skarsgård’s psychotic Terry. The best part of Skarsgård’s performance is the hunched over posture and walk he adopts, which reflects Terry’s total lack of self awareness, while also helping us disassociate him from the brooding Vampire and other hunks we’ve seen him play.
Terry and Bob seem untouchable when we first meet them. Planting blow on perps then snorting it themselves and just generally having a gay old time. They meet their match in a British Lord/ club owner/ pornographer played by Theo James (The Divergent series) who seems to be above their usual fuckery. James is upstaged by Caleb Landry Jones as his second in command, an outlandish, androgynous villain that you’ll love to hate. The cast is rounded out by the talents of Tessa Thompson, Paul Reiser, and Malcolm Barrett.
War on Everyone never quite settles on a tone, existing somewhere between action cop thriller and dark comedy, it loses its way when it tries to redeem the characters at the end, even if they’re still operating way outside their authority. A scene where they’re watching Out of Sight on TV suggests they may be going for a similar vibe, though they never get close to matching that masterpiece. McDonagh recycles the same camera tricks to try to add some 70s flair the movie, such as canted camera angles and long zooms. These can look cool but draw too much attention to themselves when completely unmotivated.
John Michael McDonagh is the brother of writer/ director Martin McDonagh (In Bruges) who works in a very similar genre though they have yet to collaborate closely on a film project. If The Guard was John Michael’s In Bruges, then this is his Seven Psychopaths; a darker, goofier take a on similar material that shows talent yet somehow feels less mature than its predecessor.