War is a tremendous disappointment and here’s why: Nothing happens. The film is billed as a battle royal between big name action stars Jet Li and Jason Statham. That could have been awesome. But instead of actually having the two go at it, War opts to bombard its audience with buildup that never pays off. Statham and Li are on opposing sides of the law, but Lee Smith and Gregory Bradley’s script is too busy examining the inner workings of the Yakuza and director Philip Atwell seems more interested in shooting exotic automobile b-roll than actually having the movie’s marquee stars punch each other in the head.
The plot involves a cop named Crawford (Statham) whose partner is gunned down by a mysterious assassin named Rogue (Li). Crawford dedicates his life to avenging his partner by hunting his killer down and three years later he gets his chance when Rogue pops back up on the local radar. Rogue meanwhile seems unconcerned. Instead of worrying about Crawford he’s occupied with playing a dangerous (and rather boring) game of cat and mouse with opposing Japanese crime families. Whose side he’s on is a mystery, and ultimately pretty unimportant.
War’s script is so drab that most of the movie’s excruciating running time is spent on filler, with Atwell opting to replay flashes of things we’ve already seen over and over again or cutting to unnecessary, random club footage. I’m not saying there aren’t a couple of cool moments, every now and then the movie wakes up and does something interesting. Unfortunately, almost none of it fits together into anything you’ll care about; it’s a random collection of scenes separated by long, extraneous establishing shot after establishing shot. Atwell loves showing people walking into buildings or whirling his camera around dimly lit locales, for no apparent reason.
The best thing I can say for War is that at least it’s rated R. There’s this annoying tendency now to tone down action movies in favor of getting teenagers in to see them. I liked Live Free Or Die Hard, but the film could have done with a few more uses of the F word. Good action movies are supposed to be hard edged, violence isn’t supposed to be soft and fun. That’s why it’s violence. War, while it’s not exactly a bloodbath, doesn’t shy away from being an old fashion action movie with occasional gratuitous female nudity and a hard edge. It embraces being a guy movie, it's just not a very good one.
Of course what good is having an edge if you don’t use it. The worst thing is that when in its final moments War does get around to having Li and Statham’s characters confront each other, the fight is over before it gets started. You’ve sat through an increasingly convoluted plot to get to it, you’d hope they’d give you some sort of payoff, but there isn’t one. Statham and Li never really fight, except for thirty seconds or so of half-hearted punches. Then it’s over. There’s nothing here but a wasted opportunity.