The loser of this War is the audience


on August 24, 2007 by Wade Major
A routine action/martial arts programmer about a violent clash between Bay Area Japanese Yakuza and Chinese Triads, War is a painfully substandard effort that fails to deliver on any of its marketed or implied promises, relying instead on a gimmicky, more-laughable-than-clever 11th-hour switcheroo that's likely to infuriate the very audiences it was meant to woo.

Three years after FBI Agent Crawford ( The Transporter 's Jason Statham) loses his partner to a mysterious contract killer known only as Rogue ( Hero 's Jet Li), fate gives him a shot at revenge. Rogue has resurfaced, shifting alliances from Japanese Yakuza boss Shiro (Ryo Ishibashi) to Chinese Triad boss Chang (John Lone), with a full-blown Asian organized crime war ready to break out as a result. Along the way there's the usual assortment of car chases and shoot-outs with requisite visits to shady strip bars and ritzy private clubs, all intended to simply bide time until the big finale when Statham and Li finally go mano-a-mano.

It would be relatively harmless and formulaic B-grade genre fare if the filmmakers simply left it at that. But director Philip G. Atwell—best known for directing the DVD-only short film that linked the first two The Fast and the Furious pictures—seems determined to prove himself some kind of second-tier Tony Scott, jazzing the picture up with seizure-inducing visuals at the expense of acting, dialogue and simple common sense. It speaks volumes that John Lone—who once anchored the Academy Award-winning The Last Emperor —is now relegated to doing a bad imitation of his own previous performance as a crime boss in Year of the Dragon .

What's most disturbing is that no one involved in greenlighting the picture appeared to be all that bothered by the abysmal screenwriting skills of writers Lee Anthony Smith and Gregory J. Bradley, first-timers who force-feed their characters so much obvious and unnecessary exposition, it almost devolves into a running joke. What appears to have distinguished this project and deluded its makers into overlooking its myriad flaws is a climactic twist that's intended to have a kind of Sixth Sense impact. The better comparison is actually Wolfgang Peterson's similarly preposterous Shattered , which employed precisely the same gimmick back in 1991, only to be met with widespread boos and guffaws.

What's likely to doom the film's box office chances, however, has less to do with bad storytelling than the utterly lackluster fight that concludes it. That the filmmakers alternately cheat and bore the audience for a solid 100 minutes would almost be forgivable if the Li-Statham square-off was anything even remotely spectacular. But the fight—choreographed by longtime Li colleague Corey Yuen (who previously directed Statham in The Transporter )—is so poorly photographed and edited that whatever merit it might have had is entirely lost in Atwell's overbearing directorial hubris.

It's easy to imagine War as the kind of film that might have starred Chuck Norris in the 1980s or Jean-Claude Van Damme in the 1990s. But those movies had the advantage of lowered expectations associated with their stars. That the likes of Statham and Li—who have both made far better films than this—would sink to such dismal material is nothing less than an insult to their core constituencies.
Distributor: Lionsgate
Cast: Jet Li, Jason Statham, John Lone, Devon Aoki, Luis Guzman, Saul Rubinek, Ryo Ishibashi, Andrea Roth and Kane Kosugi
Director: Philip G. Atwell
Screenwriters: Lee Anthony Smith & Gregory J. Bradley
Producers: Steve Chasman, Christopher Petzel and Jim Thompson
Genre: Action
Rating: R for sequences of strong bloody violence, sexuality/nudity and language
Running time: 99 min.
Release date: August 24, 2007
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