London-born filmmaker John Michael McDonagh has nurtured an exceedingly healthy disregard for authority.
In his 2011 directorial debut, The Guard, he went on patrol with a foul-mouthed Garda sergeant played by Brendan Gleeson, whose moral compass didn’t preclude drugs, drink and working girls on duty.
The blackly comic follow-up, Calvary, prayed with a discombobulated parish priest (Gleeson again), who is forced to atone for the monstrous sins of another man of the Catholic Church.
McDonagh’s enviable skill at combining jet-black humour with shocking violence is in evidence in War On Everyone, a fast-paced caper in the company of two New Mexico cops, who gleefully bend the law they have been sworn to protect.
On the surface, this third film is a glossy update of the writer-director’s first, albeit with a swinging 1970s vibe and a soundtrack laden with the greatest hits of country music idol Glen Campbell.
The script is blessed with cracking one-liners, and Michael Pena and Alexander Skarsgard deliver committed performances as police officers who agree to look the other way if the criminal fraternity lines their pockets.
However, this feels like a side-step for McDonagh and a protracted sequence shot on location in Iceland seems to belong to an entirely different film.
Officer Terry Monroe (Skarsgard) and his partner Bob Bolano (Pena) protect their own interests with a flash of their police badges.
‘Like I always say, If it ain’t broke, break it,’ grins Terry before they embark on one destructive rampage.
Lieutenant Gerry Stanton (Paul Reiser) issues his men with a final warning before they head out on surveillance and learn that Lord James Mangan (Theo James) and his sidekick Birdwell (Caleb Landry Jones) are plotting a bank robbery.
Terry and Bob glean more details from informant Reggie (Malcolm Barrett) and allow the heist to take place with the intention of pocketing the ill-gotten profits themselves.
However, Lord Mangan is no pushover and he threatens Terry’s girlfriend Jackie (Tessa Thompson) and Bob’s wife Delores (Stephanie Sigman).
Emboldened by booze or a line of cocaine, Terry and Bob prepare to do their duties to maintain a semblance of order on the streets of Albuquerque.
War On Everyone is a rumbustious and politically incorrect romp that is disappointingly light on substance.
The two lead actors look like they are having a blast and their giddiness is infectious.
Co-star James doesn’t have to break sweat as the film’s sleazy antagonist and he comes off second best in the battle of the topless hunks next to Skarsgard, who spends one throwaway scene posing in his pants.
The tone of McDonagh’s script changes abruptly in a disturbing final act that delves into the horrific backstory of a timid boy (Zion Leyba).
Behind the mask of comedy, tragedy has a rictus grin.