High- and low-brow cultural goings-on in the Second City, brought to you by a roving microtechnoanthropologist

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Burning Ring of Jell-O: War, Reviewed

So in honor of War,we've had to revise our preexisting Statham Operating Procedure (1) because L no longer lives within easy joint-movie-viewing distance and (2) because War is a super-duper special case, having not only Jason Statham, but the snuggleably deadly Jet Li. I sincerely hope that L was able to carry through on his diabolical plot to tempt his brother-in-law out to the movies on the grounds that it is his (the b-i-l's) last weekend of freedom before he returns to the level of hell known as law school. We took in an early evening showing after a late lunch featuring very stoned service and, possibly, a behind-the-scenes waitress fight.

I am relieved to report that War does not make the mistakes of Crank. Well, ok, it has some of the overcaffeinated short-attention-span camera work and editing of Crank, but in all fairness, Crank made so many mistakes it would be almost impossible not to overlap with it at some point.

Otherwise, the plot is pretty standard issue: Crawford (Statham) is an FBI agent heading a special "Pesky Asian Gangsters" Unit in San Francisco. In the foreplay opening scenes, Crawford and his partner Tom (Terry Chen, who must have been bitter about drawing the Token Ethnic Partner role in a movie about Asian gangsters) are embroiled in the climax of a case that has gone banana shaped because "someone close to us" has obviously tipped off the gangsters. Crawford has sustained one gunshot wound to the arm, and it's about to get a much more fatal friend when Tom manages to shoot the shooter in the face and save the day. Crawford is unflatteringly disbelieving that his plucky sidekick could possibly have killed "Rogue" (relax, youngsters, Anna Paquin, so far as I know, is safe), the (possibly literally) legendary yakuza enforcer.

But the yakuza seem to have taken the sidekick seriously enough to kill his wife and daughter in front of him, shoot him in the face, and burn his house to the ground. Crawford, being a movie cop, is a little peeved by this turn of events and manages to alienate his wife and son tracking down information about Rogue. We rejoin his train wreck, already in progress, when Rogue, to everyone's surprise prematurely ends an Asian vice montage by blowing up a bunch of yakuzas (using a dog-delivered bomb, and I am still pissed about that plot device, which occurs smack in the middle of the usual exploitative misogyny, and no I'm not interested in reexamining my priorities this week).

Rogue, it seems, has resurfaced only to switch sides: He's now working for the Triads. Ok, I'm big enough to admit that I was prepared to do a calendar check to be sure that it wasn't 1944, when an Asian was an Asian was an Asian and I shouldn't worry my pretty little head about why a Chinese guy was a Yakuza enforcer, but then the light bulb went on: Oh! Competing Asian gangs! In my defense, the script did not suffer from an excess of clarity.

And just when I'd gotten my Chinese and Japanese gangsters sorted out, Rogue morphed into a true chaos player. In the midst of car chases, tea parties, turf wars conducted on motorcycles in San Francisco's famous cement drainage pipe forest, ever stylishly clad, Rogue sets the yakuzas on the triads and vice versa. Crawford's Token Ethnic Partner v2.0 (Michael St. Patrick, whom you might know from Six Feet Under; I, of course, know him from All My Chidren) gets caught in the crossfire (so many of these senseless deaths could be avoided if people in the movies went to the movies once in a while).

But wait! I'm maligning all the characters, when it's clear that the Japanese boss has, at least, seen Kill Bill. He orders Rogue not only to kill the leader of the Triads but to bring him the head of Catalina and her preternaturally cute child. Rogue is not best pleased with this charge, so he fully pops the top off his can of whoopass and . . .

Oh, really, who shows up to these things for the plot? There's a face turn. And a heel turn (and frankly, the heel turn was tipped to me, at least, when an innocent 1969 Chevelle Supersport was pointlessly and without proper mourning smashed into another car). And some things that are a little from column A, a little from column B, and quite frankly, confusing and unsatisfying. But these points are late in the game and embedded in the, by this time, much-anticipated hot Statham-on-Li action. So, really, who cares?

So, yeah, War is pretty much a standard-issue cop movie couched within an Asian gangster movie. If they were doing a made-to-order War, I'd have requested:

  • Jet Li earlier and Jet Li oftener, but I must acknowledge that, while shorting me on the Jet Li front, War did give us totally suave Jet Li hotness. Seriously, the suits from the Mr. Rourke collection (McDowell vintage, natch) really really work for Jet.
  • Fewer gun battles, more ass-kicking.
  • More ass-kicking in the clear for the better observation of ass-kicking. For research purposes, I assure you.
  • Some acknowledgment of the folly of bringing a katana to a gun fight.
  • Blanket replacement of gun fights with katana and/or ass kicking contingent on my promise to ask no questions regarding why 21st century gangsters are conducting their business without recourse to firearms, cannabis, or government hand outs.
  • More Jet Li driving futuristic Japanese concept cars. (Seriously? I could not give a shit less about cars, but Jet Li cheerfully slap shifting was surprisingly hot.)

Statham and Li will always have my ass in a seat as soon as possible, but the supporting cast is pretty great in War, too. I'm afraid that Nadine Velasquez (AND HER CLEAVAGE) are too firmly (See? Cleavage!) Catalina in my mind for me to take her seriously as anything else, but with very little more than stock trophy wife lines, she managed to play a marginally different character. Devon Aoki was appropriately creepy and had a fabulously tailored pinstripe suit, plus I'm happy to see anyone escape from the vomitous clutches of Sin City. I just love Luis Guzman. He cracks my shit up. And everyone in the casts of thousands holds up pretty well, from the asio-trash kid brother to the loyal-but-seriously-annoyed older brother. And, of course, half a dozen Stargate alums (Vancouver IS the new San Francisco, sez M).

Diagnosis: Good, bloody, violent fun.

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