Corrupt cops Terry Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård) and Bob Bolaño (Michael Peña) have a cushy lifestyle, framing hoodlums and stealing narcotics as they patrol their beat in Albuquerque. But when an evil British lord (Theo James) pings onto their radar, they find themselves in way, way over their heads
“It starts and ends with the script,” says one lowlife to another in War On Everyone, as they disapprovingly watch a low-grade porn flick. “If you ain’t got a good script, you ain’t got shit.” Fortunately, the person who wrote and directed this coal-dark crime comedy is John Michael McDonagh, the Irish auteur behind The Guard and Calvary. Both of those films are mordantly funny, unpredictable and set on the rain-moistened Emerald Isle. With his third feature, he has shifted locales to sun-baked New Mexico; but thankfully McDonagh’s delightful weirdness remains intact.
War On Everyone is a spin on maybe the most hackneyed genre of them all, the buddy-cop movie. The customary tropes are all in place: Terry and Bob ride around in their ice-blue Monte Carlo coupe bickering and stopping for cheeseburgers, reporting in sporadically to their grouchy superior (Paul Reiser). There’s a foot chase originating in a strip club and soundtracked by a Fun Lovin’ Criminals track, while another scene riffs on Beverly Hills Cop. But for every moment that seems derivative, there’s a winningly absurd scenario or inspired touch. Terry and Bob, whose names may or may not be a tribute to The Likely Lads, are introduced in hot pursuit of a mime. (“I’ve always wondered… if you hit a mime, does he make a sound?” ponders Terry, shortly before finding out.) There’s also a silly running joke involving our heroes’ ongoing feud with a SWAT team.
The bad-to-the-bones lead duo are joyously over-the-top.
The bad-to-the-bones lead duo are joyously over-the-top: Terry, who has thrush and swigs bottles of beer at breakfast, is a lawman so excessively immoral he even outdoes Chief Wiggum from the famous ‘Bad Cops’ skit in The Simpsons, while Bob makes for a fine foil as the family-man partner who’s far from squeaky-clean himself. The stars are clearly having fun, too — this is redemption for Skarsgård after his bland-Tarzan misstep this summer. The villains they’re up against, meanwhile, are intentionally a lot less funny, but memorably peculiar. Theo James, best known for his role in the Divergent series, comes close to stealing the whole show as louche, Homer-literate aristocrat-scumbag James Mangan, not least because he dominates the best shot of the movie as a Steadicam prowls with him through his debauched mansion. Only a late reveal involving him is misjudged, so bleak that it threatens to tip over the whole movie.
There are other flaws: some scenes aren’t nearly as funny as they think they are (an exchange about Steven Soderbergh’s Out Of Sight starts and ends without scoring a laugh) and the plot itself fails to build up much in the way of suspense. But McDonagh — cutting with old-school line-wipes, cranking up the Glen Campbell — is clearly having a blast. The feeling’s contagious.
A thinking person’s Bad Boys, this off-kilter indie crime comedy introduces two deliriously warped lawmen to the screen.