Review: “War”

The anticipated team-up of action heroes Jet Li and Jason Statham has yielded the bland “War,” a convoluted action thriller which wastes an essentially good premise and surprising (albeit dubious) twist with weak characters, dull fisticuffs and restrained work from its stars.

Of course going into “War” people want to see one thing – Statham and Li fighting each other with their assorted martial arts moves. When the time comes it’s unfortunately a disappointing sequence that ends rather oddly, leaving all but their most loyal fans unsatisfied. In fact the action throughout is rather bland, the one-on-one fights proving more effective than the repetitive gun battles, though a car chase mid-way through is quite effective.

Hard to say whether the blame can be laid on the fight choreographer or the director, it’s not for the lack of trying as the film keeps the pace flowing fast throughout and definitely throws a lot of violence on screen – it’s just that everyone involved seems to have no real drive or energy. The setups are all bland battles in warehouses of generic streets (despite it’s San Francisco setting it feels very much like some generic Canadian city) which make them blend together and ultimately forgettable.

In fact the little moments are far more likely to stick with you – from Devon Aoki’s Yakuza princess threatening to kill her father’s goons unless they order her a chef’s salad, to the brutal slaying of the family of Statham’s partner by the assassin Rogue in a Michael Myers style white mask, these rather odd moments stick out from amidst the rest of the mess of a script – as does a few big credibility jumps, notably some claims of medical surgery that defy belief and ruin an otherwise unexpected twist in the film’s last act.

Statham is essentially a supporting character here, playing the revenge seeking rebel cop with all the tired exposition that comes saddled with it, and so we don’t get to see that roguish charm that makes him one of the more enjoyable action heroes of recent years. Li is similarly hampered, carrying that almost alien-like quiet nobility he does so well but never showing off anywhere near the athletic or even acting capability that he has displayed in other features recently.

Supporting players like Mathew St. Patrick, Luis Guzman and the great John Lone on the other hand obviously try to do what they can with the material, but struggle to overcome their underwritten roles. Whereas the characters are under utilised, the story is very much overcooked. Lee Anthony Smith and Gregory J. Bradley’s script juggles a lot of characters, many unnecessary, whilst setting up the premise of a war between Triad and Yakuza bosses with Li’s Rogue character playing both of them against the middle.

None of the actors will be hurt by this effort, all the violence will serve to please their less discerning fans, but on reflection of their careers it’s a film that won’t be looked back on with much emotion – whether it be with fondness or vitrol. A bland end to this year’s overcooked Summer.