Starring Jet Li and Jason Statham. Rated 18A.
Revenge flicks are about unpleasant people doing unpleasant things; you have to be a bit of a sadist to find such matters entertaining. I do, but my excuse is that the action is comparable to dance sequences in musicals no one's really getting their arms chopped off or brains blown out in these things. As with screen lovers who burst into fully orchestrated song in the middle of a date, we look not for believability, but style, wit, and panache.
Accordingly, War had the makings of a perfectly decent revenge flick. The furiously wronged hero is played by Jason Statham, the streetwise lithe Brit of The Transporter series. Veteran wuxia superstar Jet Li plays his nemesis, a mysterious yakuza enforcer known only as Rogue. The fine martial-arts choreographer Cory Yuen is on hand, and the ensemble is filled out with talented character actors John Lone, Mathew St. Patrick, and watchable Luis Guzmán.
With such material, War could have been a chop-socky classic. I was even willing to allow its protracted indulgence in plot as though it matters and obvious gaps in quality such as Statham's shaky accent as an FBI agent, Rogue's hilariously conspicuous "Hi everybody, I'm an assassin!" black outfits and sports car, and the inability of any cast member to correctly pronounce yakuza.
I was even ready to overlook the hideous presence of Devon Aoki reciting dialogue. Just give me the arms being chopped off and brains being blown out. But director Philip G. Atwell, though able to render a decent car chase, is hopeless at portraying action. Astonishingly poor spatial setups mean that you can't tell who's being shot in a gunfight. Ugly editing doesn't help verisimilitude. Multiple betrayals and a clever twist are pointless if friendships and motivations haven't been established beforehand. There's a smattering of chopping and blowing, sure, but if I can neither see nor care about it, what does it matter? It's just sadism, and not the pretend kind.