Directed by: Philip G. Atwell
Starring: Jason Statham, Jet Li, Devon Aoki
Rated: R for sequences of strong bloody violence, sexuality/nudity and language.
Parental Notes: This mediocre film is very violent, with nudity and sexuality sprinkled throughout. Not one for the kiddies.
It’s never a good sign when movie reviewers don’t get offered a sneak preview of a movie before it opens. Well, we didn’t get one for “War,” and I can see why: the one thing it has going for it is its stellar cast. The more information that potential audience members have about it, the less they’re going to want to see it. “War” isn’t bad, it’s just not as awesome as its starring duo of Jason Statham (“The Transporter”) and Jet Li (“Fearless”) would suggest.
Statham plays FBI agent Jack Crawford, who is out to avenge his partner’s death at the hands of Rogue (Li), an apparently invincible assassin who was once with the CIA. There are plenty of twists and turns as Rogue falls in with first the Yakuza and then the Triads in San Francisco, playing the two gangs off one another for his own mysterious ends. When we finally find out what those ends are, it’s a bit of a surprise.
An even bigger surprise, though, is that director Philip G. Atwell (whose previous credits consist mostly of music videos) fails utterly to make the best of brilliant fight choreographer Cory Yuen. His past credits include “The Transporter” films, “Kiss of the Dragon,” and “Lethal Weapon 4,” and he’s a well-known name in martial arts movie circles. Yuen’s listed in the credits, but it’s hard to tell that he had anything to do with the film. Atwell’s cinematography is apparently designed to make us feel caught up in the action rather that stepping back and letting us enjoy the hard work of Yuen and the fighters. As a result, the fight scenes are sufficiently incoherent that it’s very difficult to appreciate the skill of those involved.
That’s not to say that the fight scenes are terrible. They are workmanlike and decently paced. But when you have Cory Yuen working with stars like Statham and Li, the bar is set a little higher that it would be otherwise. These scenes should have been fantastic, not merely workmanlike. “War” was written and directed by newcomers to the action world, and it shows. Yuen, Statham, and Li may be very talented, but there is only so much they can do when hemmed in by mediocre writing and direction.
Still, those who don’t have their sights set too high will probably not be disappointed. There’s plenty of action — car and motorcycle chases, explosions, gunfights, sword fights, gun-versus-sword fights, you name it. There are Yakuza bosses with loads of tattoos, a deadly and beautiful Japanese Yakuza second-in-command (Devon Aoki, “Sin City”), motorcycle-riding Triad gangs, and the requisite gratuitous nudity. There’s plenty of intrigue, but it’s not so complicated that you’ll be confused if you leave for a bit to grab a soda.
“War” fits a niche — it’s solid movie fodder once you’ve seen all your top picks at the box office but want to pass the time while you enjoy the theater’s air conditioning. But it’s not nearly as great as it should be, which is disappointing.