In his third directorial feature, Irish filmmaker John Michael McDonagh leaves his homeland and takes his brand of dark comedy to America. Set in ‘breaking bad’ country Albuquerque, buddy movie War on Everyone stars Alexander Skarsgård and Michael Peña as police officers who regularly find themselves on the wrong side of the law. When the corrupt antics of Terry Monroe (Skarsgård) and Bob Bolaño (Peña) go too far, they cross paths with vicious Brit-gangster Lord James Mangan (Theo James) and things take a turn for the worse for the carefree detectives.
The bad-cop duo has been part of our pop culture for a while and has become commonplace in comedy, from the Superbad stoners to the Glaswegian miscreants in Burnistoun’s ‘quality polis’ sketches. The jet-black, razor sharp script and the ponderings between the protagonists reminds me most of Tarantino’s pulpy pairing of Vincent and Jules, and the quips and retorts exchanged between Terry and Bob are often hilarious. Problems lies in the rest of the narrative, as the leads are engulfed by a flimsy plot with weak supporting characters including some ridiculous villains. The film is visually interesting, with inventive camera work that is accompanied by an enjoyable soundtrack that includes a lot of Glen Campbell due to Terry’s unhealthy obsession with the country and western star.
John Michael McDonagh is a terrific writer and injects his sadistic sense of humour into a sub-genre that it has become difficult to find originality in. The recurring joke of immorality and irresponsibility works for the most part though it starts to wear a little thin towards the final third, but despite this Skarsgård and Peña are on delightfully good form in their roles. In one scene, a couple of petty thugs watch a porno with one complaining that ‘there’s no plot in these things anymore’. The other adds that ‘if you ain’t got a good script, you ain’t got shit’. Thankfully, it’s McDonagh’s zingy trademark style script that makes War on Everyone far from being criminal.