“If you’re easily offended, I don’t know what you’re doing here,” writer/director John Michael McDonagh warned in way of introduction to the SXSW premiere of latest film. As its title “War on Everyone” suggests, this buddy comedy goes for the jugular, viciously making a mockery of every single person, idea, community or sacred cow its two corrupt cops run up against. McDonagh and his cast sling shocking jokes with such delicious gusto it actually left me breathless with laughter. Seriously — I laughed myself into a violent coughing fit. I literally laughed so hard, it hurt.
Part of the brilliance of “War On Everyone” is its alchemy of casting. “Ant-Man” scene-stealer Michael Pena as a wisecracking cop might seem an obvious choice. And Pena is predictably electric, wielding his character’s devil-may-care bravado like a weapon. McDonagh’s casting genius comes in when Pena is paired with “True Blood” star Alexander Skarsgård. The Swedish actor hasn’t done comedy since coming to the States, however, draped in a ridiculous cowboy shirt with shoulders and forehead slouched cro-magnon-style, the actor delivers daffy lines like, “Rumors are the mother of invention” with such aplomb it’s dizzying. The rapid-fire banter between the two is exhilaratingly bombastic. And the jokes come so fast and furious, I definitely missed a slew from laughing over them. (All the more reason to go again!)
“War on Everyone” is like “The Naked Gun” with big, hairy balls. Pena and Skarsgård’s unrepentantly violent officers work out of New Mexico, where they squeeze snitches for information that can make them rich through blackmail or theft. Whatever works. But when they’re not running down drug-smuggling mimes, telling a yowling murderess to “play a little game of ‘Shut the Hell Up,'” or snorting coke off the diaper changing station in a public restroom, these volatile anti-heroes have loved ones to care for. Pena’s coarse cop is a family man with a whip-smart wife (Stephanie Sigman) and a couple of comically plump sons. Skarsgård’s bachelor pulls together a motley makeshift family out of a witty exotic dancer (“Creed“s enchanting Tessa Thompson) and a traumatized homeless teen.
Thompson and Skarsgård sizzle onscreen, whether it’s a rollicking love scene, an on-edge interrogation, or a surreal dance number. At one point, Skarsgård’s unhinged enthusiasm for violence becomes domesticated within his earnest concern for this street kid with a big secret. Paul Reiser also pops by to play a flustered police chief. Even the crooks in this flick are unnervingly fun.
Malcolm Barrett (a standout on the undervalued sitcom “Better Off Ted”) and David Wilmot (a recurring McDonagh collaborator) are deliriously funny as a pair of garrulous, track-suited informants. With a snake-like slither and foppish fashion sense, Caleb Landry Jones revels in the sickening depravity of a creepy henchman. Theo James proves so mesmerizing and sinister as the aristocrat crime lord at the plot’s dark heart, that you’ll forget the blandness he inflicted on the world in with the “Divergent” franchise.
Just as his reckless rogues wildly steer their muscle car, McDonagh speeds through the plot with little care. Some points may get lost along the way. Or maybe I was laughing over exposition lines — it’s hard to say. But it’s even harder to care when the ride is so much fun.
Those who have cheered for McDonagh’s brother Martin’s breakout film “In Bruges” will surely rejoice in the director’s brand of fearlessly frank and iconoclastic humor. So-called equal opportunity offender comedy can be tricky to pull off. Often it can feel less outrageous and more bullying with the majority carelessly mocking the marginalized. But in “War On Everyone” McDonagh solves that potential problem by having a genuinely diverse cast. Representation helps keep these jokes from punching down. Instead, these punch lines are wild roundhouses aimed at all comers. In that way there is a strange sense of equality to its outrageous barbs, and the audience can laugh at themselves and each other together. Then all this mad momentum barrels into an unflinchingly graphic finale that is all at once spectacular and hilarious, albeit in a deeply dark way.
Simply put: “War on Everyone” is brazenly offensive and riotously funny.
“War on Everyone” made its U.S. premiere at SXSW.
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