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War (review)

Nobody Is Kung-Fu Fightin’

WTF? I thought the big deal about Jason Statham is that he’s a white guy who can kick ass martial-arts style? Isn’t that the whole point of him as a supposed movie star? I mean, it’s not like he’s got much else to recommend him. He’s cold, thuggish, and impossible to sympathize with. But he can movie-kung-fu like nobody, apparently, or at least like no other gwai loh.
Okay. I can accept that. That’s a reason to throw a bloke into movies, I guess. So: is it me, or does one not expect, when seeing him cast against Jet Li — the Gene Kelly of cinematic kung-fu — in a movie called War, of all possible titles, that, like, the white kung-fu dude and the Chinese kung-fu dude will, you know, get it on in a bad-ass martial arts showdown? Is this not the entire point of the endeavor? To leave this out… would this not be like selling a flick as a cheap, cheesy, sleazy porno and neglecting to include a cum shot? If you’re gonna be stupid and exploitive and B-move-ish, don’t you owe it to your audience to at least be competently stupid and exploitive and B-movie-ish?

And yet, War denies us the simple, brainless pleasure of watching these two guys get Oriental on each other’s asses. It’s like someone made Gamera vs. Mothra and, oops, forgot to give us two guys in rubber suits battling to the death. Oh, Li (Fearless, Unleashed) and Statham (Crank, Cellular) get to slap each other around, all girly-girly, in one scene, the one that is meant to be the big climactic confrontation, but: heh. Are they kidding? Slapping around is not what we paid to see. We paid to see kung-fu, and we don’t get it.

Look, no one is going to War to see Jason Statham “act.” The script — by first-timers Lee Anthony Smith and Gregory J. Bradley (Smith is a former personal trainer, and it shows) — attempts to be very dramatic, all “oh, they killed Jason’s partner, and now he’s mad, and out for vengeance.” But Statham can’t sell it — he just isn’t leading man material, and he’s not, alas, the second coming of Bruce Willis. I don’t mean to be unduly harsh on Statham; maybe he can act. But he keeps that a secret here. He’s an FBI agent obsessed with his partner’s death at the hands of the rogue Asian assassin called, well, Rogue (Li), and now he’s hunting Rogue down, and when they meet — in the first of only two scenes Statham and Li share, Rogue tells him, “I saw it in your eyes, John: pain, rage, loneliness.” I was all: Huh! If only we could see that in Statham’s eyes, there might be something interesting to distract us from the profound lack of kung-fu bad-assery.

No, wait: Rogue doesn’t tell Statham’s agent that in their first of only two scenes together. He tells Statham’s agent that before they’ve ever actually met. Hmm. And later, in that first-of-only-two-scenes, the FBI agent goes on and on about the weirdness of Rogue’s new face — he frequents shady plastic surgeons who regularly alter his appearance, you see — but the only look the agent has ever had of Rogue, as far as we can tell, is in blurry photographs in which you can barely make out that Rogue is Asian.

There’s a whole lotta really dumb stuff going on here, like a ridiculous amount of indiscriminate shooting. Statham’s agent acts as Judge Judy and executioner on more than one occasion — are FBI agents really allowed to kill disarmed suspects in cold blood? Devon Aoki (Sin City, 2 Fast 2 Furious) is hilariously awful as the daughter/heir apparent of a Yakuza crime family (there’s a lot of nonsense going on about warring Japanese Yakuza and Chinese Triad mobs); she gets to say stuff like “Your stupidity insults my father” while channeling the ghost of Morticia Addams. And the ending? Hoo, don’t get me started on the multiple levels of preposterousness.

No one would care, though, if we got what we came to see: Jason Statham and Jet Li whaling on each other for, like, 20 minutes. What a gyp.

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MPAA: rated R for sequences of strong bloody violence, sexuality/nudity and language

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