I would be lying if I didn't say I was looking forward to this. Jet Li is one of the greatest martial artists to ever grace the big screen and Jason Statham is turning into an excellent badass of cinema. The idea of pairing these two together would appear to be a stroke of genius with a story that would seem to write itself. Sure, the two did appear together in 2001's The One, but that was before Statham made his rise to the top. The problem with War is that the story is incredibly over-written and they seem to have forgotten this was supposed to be an action film. The end result was a film that offered some B grade fun, but ultimately it was too much plot, too little action.
War gets off to a rip roaring start that would seem to promise a movie that would deliver the action goods. FBI agent Jack Crawford (Jason Statham) and his partner Tom Lone (Terry Chen) are crashing a shootout between rival factions of the Japanese Yakuza and the Chinese Triads operating. This battle brings the two face to face with the Yakuza's hired gun, a silent assassin called Rogue (Jet Li). Their disruption of the evening's activities puts them on Rogue's hit list. Rogue targets Tom and his family, he enters their home and brutally kills the entire family, after which he disappears, leaving Jack to torture himself over it and plan his revenge.
Three years after the massacre of the Lone family, evidence arises which signals the return of Rogue to American shores. This news reinvigorates Crawford's desire to have his revenge. So far, so good. Rogue is back, which is a good thing. The problem is that Rogue is not only working for the Yakuza. The plot takes on the familiar notes of Yojimbo and A Fistful of Dollars. A mysterious man playing rival families/clans against each other. This is where everything begins to fly off the rails.
You have the revenge story of Crawford's, Rogue playing both sides of the coin, plus each family has some internal strife. And there you have it, it has officially gone of the rails and taken any reason to care right along with it. The running time is split between these threads as director Philip G. Atwell attempts to give them each plenty of attention, while the screenplay from Lee Anthony Smith and Gregory J. Bradley goes through hoops to try and make everything fit. I understand what the characters were doing, I think. There is absolutely no reason why this had to be so convoluted. The revenge story should have been enough. Yes, there was a need to get some other pieces in motion to bring a bit more logic as to why they had to meet, but this was ridiculous.
There was plenty of talking and a good deal of gun play, but that is not why I was looking forward to this movie. Some talk and some guns are fine, but what I wanted were no holds barred fisticuffs, and none of those fights really made much of an impact. There was one decently emotional sword fight, but it just was not enough. And when we finally get the Li vs Statham showdown, it felt like it was over before it began. Big disappointment.
Despite the convoluted plot, I will give them credit for a nicely executed twist. A twist, that in retrospect I should have caught onto much earlier. Of course, that was immediately tossed out by another plot point that made no sense and really didn't fit in all that well with the rest of the movie. I am being a bit vague here, but you will know it when you see it.
The performances by the two leads, despite not having all that much to do, were not all that bad. Jet Li brings a quiet menace to the role and is not afraid of playing a bad guy. Statham continues his string of big screen bad asses (I tell you, this guy should have been the lead in Hitman). I also liked Sung Kang in his supporting role as Goi, part of Crawford's team. Also turning in a good performance despite it all is Ryo Ishibashi as Shiro, leader of the Yakuza clan. On the flip side is Devon Aoki, whose acting skills are not taking many strides forward. Also, I am no linguist, and I do not know Japanese, but she did not sound all that convincing speaking it. It was sort of like listening to Jet Li speak English in his earlier films, slow and calculated, trying to make sure the word selection was correct.
One last rant before I close. I hate it when we get flashbacks of something that just happened. Not all the time, but many times it is not for style or effect, but to remind us of what just happened. We were barely twenty minutes into the movie and we were getting flashbacks to the beginning of the movie. Why? Do you have that little respect for your audience that feel the need to remind us of something that just happened? Whatever. I only hope that Li and Statham's next films are stronger than this one.
Bottom line. I so wanted to like this. The trailer promised action that the creative team failed to deliver on. I still like Li and Statham, and they both somewhat watchable here, but it isn't really worth watching. The story twists around on itself, there is no reason to care about the characters or the story. It is a mediocre action diversion until something better comes along, but I would not call it a must see in the least. Actually, you would probably be better served to wait for DVD.