In 2011 John Michael McDonagh made his feature film debut with The Guard, a sublimely subversive black buddy cop comedy set in western Ireland. The Irish director’s latest film belongs to the same hybrid genre but takes place in the radically different climate and culture of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Michael Peña and Alexander Skarsgård play exuberantly corrupt police detectives Bob Bolaño and Terry Monroe. Like all good buddy cop duos, the two men are very different. Bob is a mordantly funny, frighteningly well-read family man whose causal banter contains references to French existential philosophers while Terry is more of an overgrown, racist, severely alcoholic teenager who loves listening to Glen Campbell and beating up scumbags. What unites to the long-time partners is a shared disregard for conventionality morality, authority figures and the laws they are sworn to enforce.
War on Everyone opens with Bob and Terry being reinstated following the latest in a long series of suspensions for misconduct. Lieutenant Stanton (Paul Reiser) warns the duo that he is giving them one last chance to prove themselves and that the next time they screw up it will cost them their badges. Both men nod in understanding and promise to be model officers from here on out. Cut to a few hours later and the pair are in the parents bathroom at a sleazy bar doing lines of coke off a baby diaper change table with local petty criminal and Nation of Islam convert Reggie X (Malcolm Barrett). When Reggie lets something slip about a scheme to steal a million dollars in winnings from a nearby racetrack Bob and Terry blackmail him into giving them all the details and begin plotting to appropriate the stolen funds for themselves.
McDonagh keeps things fairly light and farcical for the film’s second act. The heist itself goes hilariously awry and Bob and Terry are forced to pursue a double-crossing Reggie to Iceland in a brief but delightfully bizarre sequence. After learning that a British aristocrat named James Mangan (Theo James) was the brains behind the entire operation and is now in possession of the million they return to Albuquerque to further investigate. Bob discusses plans for his half of the money with his wife Dolores (who in a small but satisfying genre subversion is completely aware and accepting of her husband’s criminal activities) while Terry begins seeing Jackie (Tessa Thompson), the sultry, exotic dancer ex-girlfriend of a Quaker the partners shook down earlier in the film.
Thompson and Skarsgård get the opportunity to perform the hell out of Mia Wallace-Vincent Vega-esque dance routine to the Glen Campbell recording of Rhinestone Cowboy before things take a turn for the bleak in War on Everyone’s final act. Mangan and his girlishly pretty, skin-crawlingly creepy henchmen Birdwell (Caleb Landry Jones) are eventually revealed as a particularly horrible breed of monster. This serves to illustrate the difference the generally crappy, destructive, self-serving behaviour of our two leads and the actual, genuine evil Mangan and Birdwell engage in, but it also makes the film’s final minutes slightly harder to enjoy than everything that came before.
The fact that War on Everyone isn’t quite the sleazy masterpiece that McDonagh’s first film was shouldn’t deter anyone from seeing it. McDonagh’s dialogue is still as savagely satirical, casually pretentious and shockingly hilarious as ever, and Michael Peña and Alexander Skarsgård have phenomenal comedic chemistry together. The supporting cast all give dynamic, vibrant performances but it’s the combination of Peña’s drier than dust deadpan delivery and Skarsgård’s goofily enthusiastic physical comedy that really makes this black buddy cop comedy shine.