The fatal flaw of “War,” the lazily titled, frenetically produced Asian gangland thriller starring Jason Statham and Jet Li, is that I don’t give two craps about anyone in it.
Statham plays a San Francisco FBI agent named Jack Crawford who wants to find the assassin who killed his partner three years ago. Li plays Rogue, the aforementioned assassin who was once trained by the CIA before going, um, rogue, changing his face with plastic surgery (he does it every six months to keep the Feds off his trail), and becoming a freelance killer.
Rogue has generally worked for the Japanese Yakuza, but now he has apparently switched over to the Chinese Triad. This change in allegiances from one Asian organized-crime syndicate to another means a great deal to everyone in the movie, primarily because it escalates the war between the two groups. It would appear that Rogue is intentionally pitting them against each other, and this affects how the FBI does its job in bringing them down.
Me? I sincerely could not possibly care less who wins in the battle between the Yakuza and the Triad. Honestly. Sometimes people are exaggerating when they say they “couldn’t care less,” because in truth they DO care at least a tiny, tiny bit, and so they therefore COULD care less. But I am not exaggerating. I genuinely have no interest whatsoever in this conflict.
Watching the film, I was struck by how much the director, Philip G. Atwell (who trained in music videos, and it shows), was taking it for granted that I WOULD care. He focuses long stretches of his movie not on Crawford’s pursuit of Rogue, which is ostensibly the story’s main point, but on Rogue’s interactions with the two rival gangs and their battles with each other. Yet as he does this, Atwell fails to give us any reason to care. None of the villains are memorable; most do not fit descriptions any more detailed than “Asian man in a dark suit.” Rogue barely talks and has a passive expression on his face most of the time. Crawford is surly and moody in a generic, unpleasant way.
Seriously: a damn. I do not give it.
The Japanese crime boss has a daughter, Kira (Devon Aoki), who handles his affairs in San Francisco. It is implied that she is some kind of major butt-kicker with martial arts skills. But do we ever get to see her fight? Nope. In fact, nearly all of the fighting — let’s face it, the main reason you watch a Jason Statham/Jet Li movie — is not hand-to-hand but simply people shooting at each other.
Things perk up a bit in the last act, when we finally get a real fight involving swords that gets bloody and hacky. Most movie sword fights are fairly clean. In this one, the participants go at it like that knight in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” continuing to grapple even after taking major hits.
There’s also some intrigue in the final minutes when the screenplay (by first-timers Lee Anthony Smith and Gregory J. Bradley) introduces some goofy plot twists and crazy reversals. I can’t say I really became “interested” at this point, but I did start paying more attention. At last the movie had provoked a reaction. That reaction was “Hey, that’s ridiculous!,” but at least I was finally involved.
D+ (1 hr., 43 min.; )