Starring: Jason Statham, Jet Li, John Lone, Mark Cheng, Devon Aoki, Ryo Ishibashi, Sung Kang, and Terry Chen
Director: Philip G. Atwell
Rating: Four of Ten Stars
FBI Special Agent Crawford (Statham) tries to corner the assassin known as Rogue (Li), finally hoping to get revenge for the murders of his partner and his partner's family. Meanwhile, the killer is attempting to start a war between the Yakuza and Triad gangs in San Francisco for reasons known only to him.
For most of its running time, "War" is a slightly below average action film. The fight and gun-play scenes are okay, the chase scenes outstay their welcome a little, but nothing is too terrible. It remains in this mode, until, literally its final minutes... at which time not one but two surprise twists are introduced, one of which in particular goes a long way to undermine everything we've just sat through.
I don't like spoiling movies in my reviews, so I won't go into details about the twists. If someone out there wants more information, or wants to discuss them, please open a conversation in the Comments section. However, as far as the twists go in the most general of terms...
The first twist relates to the nature and identity of Rogue and what his motivations are. Early in the film, it's established the Rogue is erratic, has changed allegiances at least once in his career, and so unpredictable that some even question whether he exists or not. As we see Rogue in action throughout the movie, we come to see his erratic nature first hand, as whenever we think we know what he's up to, it turns out that it's really something entirely different. It works for the movie, as the "A Fistful of Dollars"-type plot-line with Rogue setting the Yakuza and Triad gangs on a path of mutually assured destruction while both sides think he is working for them while betraying the other is one of its more entertaining aspects. However, it seems extremely contrived--beyond even the point that is acceptable for a film like this, where everything feels contrived to one degree or another when the all of Rogue's secrets are laid bare at the last minute.
Then there's the film's second twist, the one that costs it an entire ratings point all by itself. I don't mind movies of this type having thin plots, nor do I necessarily mind lots and lots of contrived and convenient circumstances to keep them going, nor to I necessarily mind some degree of incoherence and/or illogic in the story-telling; if I did, I doubt I would like any of them. What I don't like is when the filmmakers think they are being clever/dramatic/Shakespearean-level-tragic when they throw in some "surprise revelation" that is badly set up (if set up at all) and which either fits poorly with everything that's gone before, or so transforms our impression of the characters the revelation is related to that it sours us on the entire movie.
In "War," the "clever surprise revelation" is so badly executed that it doesn't quite sour the viewer on the characters, but it will annoy the heck out of anyone who is paying attention. But it is illogical in the extreme and it ruins what might otherwise have been a strong ending--and even a set-up for a potential sequel. Perhaps even worse, it feels like half a twist, as its main set-up comes during the final confrontation between Rogue and the Yakuza. It grows out of what seems to be an obvious lie, and it still feels like a lie even its being confirmed during last two minutes. It's a twist that leads to a turns into a spoiled ending, due to incompetent writing and directing.
As for the acting, nothing here is too terrible, but nothing is all that remarkable either. Jason Statham and Jet Li were both better in their previous teaming--"The One," I film I wished I'd watched again instead of taking the time to see this one--but they do the best with what they have here. Their characters don't demand a whole lot of acting from them, and the fight scenes are pretty standard for the film's we've seen them in.
When "War" was released in 2007, I ignored it, because I felt the previews made it look uninteresting. I should have stayed with my first instincts and ignored it on DVD as well. It's a mediocre action film that's ruined by plot twists conceived by writers who weren't talented enough to properly pull them off.