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Dustin Putman

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War  (2007)
1 Stars
Directed by Philip G. Atwell
Cast: Jet Li, Jason Statham, John Lone, Devon Aoki, Luis Guzman, Saul Rubinek, Ryo Ishibashi, Sung Kang, Mathew St. Patrick, Nadine Velazquez, Andrea Roth, Mark Cheng, Terry Chen
2007 – 103 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for strong bloody violence, sexuality/nudity and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, August 25, 2007.
Using "War" as a film title is ballsy. It's a small word in physical size, but its inference is epic in scale and open to any number of judgments and interpretations. As such, it is totally unsuited for the movie that has chosen it for its moniker. A lethargic, by-the-numbers waste of time that transforms near the end into an audaciously ludicrous waste of time, "War" pits action stars Jet Li (2005's "Unleashed") and Jason Statham (2006's "Crank") against one another and then fails to take advantage of the possibilities. Both actors look like they'd rather be anywhere else than in front of the camera, and who could blame them? Having sat through the picture only a few hours ago, it has already begun to exit my memory.

For reasons that will go unmentioned here, the convoluted plot turns really convoluted by the third act. What can be discussed is the initial setup. FBI agent Jack Crawford (Jason Statham) is devastated when his partner (Terry Chen) and partner's family are killed by ruthless assassin Rogue (Jet Li), crony of a Japanese Triad crime ring. The case goes cold and no one is charged with the crimes, but Crawford regains hope when the Triad seems to start up again three years later. Determined to clean up the San Francisco streets and avenge his friend's murder, Crawford narrows in his focus on apprehending Rogue. Completing this task won't be easy, though, as Rogue gradually reveals himself—and his intentions—to be even more enigmatic than originally expected.

"War" is largely a yawner. For an action film, it creeps along at a monotonously slow pace. If this delibrance had a purpose, whether it be to explore the characters or deepen the plot's intrigue, that would be one thing, but there is no sign of either. The leads (and supporting ensemble) are forgettable stock figures, not a one of them worthy of caring about. They are flimsy screenplay constructs whose lives begin and end on the written page. The story, when not jumping to grand heights of silliness, is painfully run-of-the-mill. The direction by Philip G. Atwell (making his feature debut after a stint in music videos) is competent and nothing more. The car chases are afterthoughts. As for the fight sequences, they are few and far between, but at least R-rated in their gritty level violence.

The performances befit the film, which is to say that most of the actors sleepwalk through their material. As Crawford, Jason Statham broods and then disappears for so long in the second half you forget he's supposed to be the main character. As Rogue, Jet Li is handed minimal dialogue and looks worn out. Mathew St. Patrick, as Crawford's colleague Wick, appears to be wishing he could go back to the glory days of actual acting in HBO's "Six Feet Under." Only Ryo Ishibashi (2006's "The Grudge 2") and Devon Aoki (2005's "Sin City") stand out, playing a father-daughter force to be reckoned with who front the Triad organization. Ishibashi brings a prominence and weight to his authoritarian role, while Aoki is best when she amusingly turns a weapon-slinging threat into a more innocent demand for a chef salad with no bleu cheese and dressing on the side.

Once "War" reveals all of its cards, the film improves in interest, if not in quality. It is off-the-wall enough to garner attention (and, to be fair, does fill in a couple plot holes), but also straddles the line of getting bad laughs. The very end, meanwhile, is simultaneously awful and awkward, an anticlimactic joke that plays as if director Philip G. Atwell accidentally forgot to shoot the last scene and tried to salvage things in the editing room. If viewers are expecting to see Jet Li and Jason Statham battle each other, which the preceding 90 minutes go so far as to suggest, forget it. That, too, was either squandered by the screenplay or ended up on the cutting room floor. A frivolous action film doesn't need to have a deep meaning as long as it delivers the requisite thrills and excitement of the genre. "War" does not, culminating in an audience left to scratch their heads and ask, "What was the point?"
© 2007 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman