Wednesday, August 29, 2007

REVIEW: War (2007)

The best thing I can say about "War" is that it deserves to be better than it is. While I won't spoil it here, what is probably one of the niftier "Gotcha... and gotcha AGAIN!!" plot twists I can recall for the genre caps off what is otherwise an entirely generic, disposable John Woo knockoff action thriller; and has the effect of making the characters, motivations and story points involved so much more interesting and imbued with such greater potential you wish that the actual product was worthy of it.

The film is a two-way "versus" star-vehicle for Hong Kong action legend Jet-Li and up-and-coming British action star Jason Statham. The two "met" previously in "The One," but as it was made before Statham revealed himself to be a kung-fu virtuoso in his own right the film lacked a proper "Hero versus The Transporter" showdown. Unfortunately, despite implications of the trailers, "War" doesn't quite provide this either- the two share only a single brief-but-brutal exchange of fists (and anything else that isn't nailed down) at the climax -but instead sets them up as opposing forces in a large (and largely incomprehensible) Yakuza vs. Triad crime saga that finds each actor playing to darker, angrier places in their skill-sets. Fans can at least rest-assured that, whatever else is going on in "War" the standard "We must fight! Wait, we're actually on the same side! Let's team up to fight the REAL enemy!" hero/hero fight structure is NOT in play.

Statham is an FBI agent who's partner/best-friend was killed, along with his entire family, by "The Rogue," a martial-arts master Yakuza hitman who no one can catch and who surgically overhauls his face all the time to avoid recognition. Three years later, Statham has morphed into the standard-issue divorced/slovenly/bitter cop dedicated to hunting down Rogue... who has just now resurfaced, his face re-cut into that of Jet Li, in the midst of a stateside Triad/Yakuza war over priceless artifacts. What none of the cops realize is that Rogue, for reasons unknown, seems to be pulling a "Red Harvest" on both gangs. Devon Aoki (middle of my blog banner, the one with the snake) is on hand as a Yakuza princess to give us something to look at when people aren't fighting and/or shooting.

It's all rather basic and unremarkable, building to a pair of twist-reveals that succeed in redrawing the map of what you thought the movie was about but don't quite make the first two acts "better." At best, it's enough to make it an interesting action movie footnote.