War (United States, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Jason Statham has staked out a claim for this page of the calendar. Two years ago, his movie Transporter II arrived on Labor Day weekend. Last year, it was Crank. This year, it's War (although, to be accurate, this movie opens the weekend before Labor Day). However, while Statham was the main man in both Transporter II and Crank, here he plays second fiddle to Jet Li. As the inscrutable, seemingly invincible Rogue, Li gets the lion's share of the screen time. And Li is such a supercool badass that he makes Statham come across as tame and unkempt. Li and the fight scenes are the reasons to see War. Everything else, including the surprisingly convoluted plot, is superfluous.

It's Yakuzi against Triad, with San Francisco as Ground Zero in the war. The Japanese faction is led by Shiro (Ryo Ishibashi) and his daughter, Kira (Devon Aoki), while the Chinese group is led by Chang (John Lone). Playing both sides against the middle is an assassin named Rogue. Shiro thinks he's his man but Chang believes Rogue is working for him. Meanwhile, U.S. Federal Agent Jack Crawford (Jason Statham) is involved in the conflict for a personal reason. He doesn't care if the Yakuza and Triads wipe out each other, but he wants a piece of Rogue. Crawford blames the hit man for killing his partner several years ago and he's in this for revenge. The truth on all fronts turns out to be more complicated than it first appears to be.

The weight of exposition slows things down but not to the point where the proceedings grind to a halt - and there is an eventual payoff to this. As far as the movie's meat is concerned, some of the action sequences work better than others. Those that involve hand-to-hand combat, such as Li going one-on-one with Crawford or engaging in a sword battle with one of the Yakuza, are well choreographed and expertly executed. An elevated heart rate isn't out of the question. Some of the more mundane material, like motorbike and car chases and routine shoot-outs, are difficult to get through without stifling a yawn. Once in a long while, a worthwhile car chase comes along (such as in Déjà Vu), but most of the time, these are boring affairs. It's no different in War.

Jet Li is the epitome of cool. This guy is completely under control as he goes about his business. He kills without compunction. You've got to admire someone who's that calm and methodical. For most of the film, Li is as emotionless as they come; surprisingly, that makes it easier to identify with him. In a forest full of villains, he stands apart, radiating something that's not unlike nobility. Jason Statham plays a man with a troubled past and an equally troubled present, but he's pretty much relegated to the role of supporting character.

War, from first-time director Philip G. Atwell, doesn't set out to convert non-Li fans into adherents. The purpose of the movie is to give action fans a fix. It's not the greatest genre film but it is at least as energetic as the fourth Die Hard movie and better paced and more exciting than Transformers. This isn't great cinema, but it adequately fills a niche. Those who like their action loud and bloody won't be disappointed. There's a high body count and lots of explosions and, for some, that's what this is all about.

War (United States, 2007)

Director: Philip G. Atwell
Cast: Jet Li, Jason Statham, John Lone, Devon Aoki, Luis Guzman, Ryo Ishibashi
Screenplay: Lee Anthony Smith & Gregory J. Bradley
Cinematography: Pierre Morel
Music: Brian Tyler
U.S. Distributor: Lionsgate
Run Time: 1:40
U.S. Release Date: 2007-08-24
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1