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A 'War' with no real winners

It's not the director, with his jumbled scenes, or the uninspired actors. And it's not the viewers.

August 27, 2007|Sam Adams | Special to The Times

On the posters for "War," Jet Li and Jason Statham glare into each other's eyes as red flames burn in the background, suggesting those football-game promos in which opposing teams' helmets collide and explode. But the promised meeting of unstoppable force and immovable object turns out to be more like the dull clap of one block of wood hitting another.

Statham, his mouth curled in a permanent snarl, plays Jack Crawford, an FBI agent bent on avenging his partner's death at the hands of a shadowy assassin known only as Rogue (Li).

Exactly why this particular G-man speaks with a thick English accent is never explained (nor is that he shares a name with Scott Glenn's FBI profiler from "The Silence of the Lambs"), but if you're expecting detail work, you've come to the wrong place.

Directed by music-video veteran Philip G. Atwell, "War" constructs a complicated series of switchbacks and double-crosses that build to a gang war between Japanese yakuza and Chinese triads on the streets of San Francisco, with Rogue playing both sides against each other and Jack fighting his way through the smoke.

Unable to coax more than a handful of facial expressions from his lead actors, Atwell jerks his camera around like a disobedient dog, peppering his shots with random zooms and flash frames and throwing them together in a rapid-fire jumble. As a result, the movie is pleasing to look at but nearly impossible to follow, least of all during its resolutely uninvolving action sequences.

Atwell knows his way around a lighting setup but can't stage a coherent car chase or set up a gunfight so you can tell who's shooting at whom. Then again, geography is hardly one of "War's" strong suits; its Vancouver-shot version of San Francisco includes a "yakuza district" strangely absent from the tourist literature.

Building to a climactic twist as arbitrary as it is unsatisfying, "War" ties itself in knots trying to bring something new to a stale formula. It's never painful to watch, but that's only because it provokes no feeling at all.

"War." MPAA rating: R for sequences of strong bloody violence, sexuality/nudity and language. Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes.

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