Reel Opinions

Friday, August 24, 2007


When will Hollywood directors learn how to use the Asian action stars they've been handed with? Just weeks ago, I watched Rush Hour 3, which featured a tired and uninterested Jackie Chan who seemed to only be there because there was a nice paycheck waiting at the end of the shoot. Now here comes War, which features the extremely talented Jet Li, yet for most of its running time does not even bother to exploit him or his talents. Now, War is not a bad movie at all, and is easily a superior film to Rush Hour 3. I just can't get over the fact that they hired Jet Li, and then told him to stand around for almost the entire time. When the movie finally delivers the goods, it's a lot of fun in a brainless sort of way, but there's a lot of dead weight to sort through first.

Ever since hard-edged FBI agent, Jack Crawford (Jason Statham), witnessed his agent partner and his partner's family get murdered by a mysterious assassin who goes by the name of Rogue (Jet Li), he's been obsessed with tracking the man down, so much so that it has all but ruined his personal life outside of work. It's been three years since that tragic day, and after a lengthy period of going underground, Rogue has returned out in the open, and he seems to be planning something. He has betrayed the Japanese Yakuza crime family that he's served for years, and switched sides over to a rival Asian gang that is vying for control of the streets. Jack is not sure what his enemy is planning, but violence between the two crime syndicates seems to be on the rise, and a war seems to be almost inevitable. As Jack digs deeper into the mystery, it seems almost as if Rogue is playing both sides, fanning the flames for his own personal gain.

I will not go any further with the plot, in order to prevent any spoilers. That being said, War has a pretty winding and sometimes convoluted plot for what is mainly a piece of "check your brain at the door" entertainment. There are enough double crosses, double agents, double identities, and double meanings to fill two movies. While the film's main twist that comes at the end does come as a surprise, the movie does seem to enjoy toying with us a bit more than it probably should. The film's ad campaign promises that we are to see Jason Statham and Jet Li, two of the biggest action movie badasses working today, going at war with each other. And yet, oddly enough, the number of scenes the two lead characters share together could be counted on one hand, and the number of fights they share together could be represented with just a single finger. To say this is disappointing would be an understatement. Here is a movie that gives us a variety of elaborate action scenes, many of which are shot well, yet very few of them actually concern the men we've come to see fight each other. Of the two leads, Jason Statham gets the most screen time and attention. There are some weak attempts at making Jack out to be a real character (he became distanced from his wife and child when he became obsessed with hunting down Rogue), but most of the time, he snarls as only Statham can and practices police brutality on just about everyone who looks at him cross eyed. Jet Li's Rogue is mainly left as an enigma, says very little, and does even less for most of the film. It may seem annoying, but when you see where the movie leads to, it at least makes sense at the end. And when the film finally lets Li do his thing, it is a thing of beauty.

The rest of the cast exists mainly as target practice for both of the main characters to pick off until it's time for them to finally go against each other. We're introduced to the head members of the two warring Asian crime families, but they are developed to the absolute minimum. On the side of the Yakuza, we have the daughter of the head of the criminal gang (played by Devon Aoki from D.O.A.: Dead or Alive) giving most of the orders in her father's place. She's supposed to be a femme fatale, but she actually comes across as being pretty boring since she never gets to kill anyone, nor does she get in any fights. This is further complicated with the fact that Aoki refuses to show any facial expression other than a somewhat blank, vacant stare that never seems to say anything. She has done this with every performance I've seen her in, which makes me wonder if she might be one of those body snatchers I saw in last week's The Invasion, which would explain her inability to show any emotion whatsoever. The head of the rival crime gang fears for the safety of his wife and daughter as the flames of war begin to grow, but not enough is done with this idea, nor are these characters developed in any way.

Now, I don't want to stress only the negatives, as War really is not that bad of a movie. The film's opening action sequence suffers a bit from the infamous "shaky cam" syndrome, which kind of made me worried about what I was in for. Fortunately, the cameraman seems to get a better hold of the action from that point on, and the upcoming action sequences are much easier to follow. Some highlights include a battle between the two warring crime gangs in a Japanese restaurant, an intense motorcycle chase and battle, and the entire last half of the film when the filmmakers finally take the invisible weights off of Jet Li that have been holding him down for the entire movie, and let him finally do his stuff. The battle between Li and Statham that the movie has been building up to could have been longer and more dramatic, but it's still entertaining, and that's what counts. The film's fight choreography is by Corey Yuen, who has a long history of staging stunts and fights in both Hollywood and Asia. This isn't his best work, but at least it looks like he made an effort to make the action sequences as brutal as possible.
War delivers plenty in the big, dumb action that we're looking for. It just doesn't deliver when it comes to the two men we want to see get involved in them. Jason Statham gets plenty of opportunities, but I kept on waiting for them to truly use Jet Li. The movie disappoints in some ways, but it's not a complete failure, and certainly not one that the studio should have been afraid to release without screening for critics. There's been much worse films that have gotten screenings, many of them from the same studio. As the title would suggest, War is a noisy and violent spectacle that's not afraid to show the hero torture a dying villain by pressing his finger deep into an open wound, hitting bone. You should probably be able to tell if this movie is for you just by reading that last sentence.



  • Well, as long as the Statham/Li fight is good ... When I went to see Cradle 2 the Grave, it was mostly for the promise of seeing Jet Li fight Mark Dacascos, a scene that was totally lacked impact due to the editor's decision to intercut the fight with two other fights we didn't care about.

    By Blogger Ole-Christian, at 1:22 AM  

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