Special Agent Jack Crawford (Jason Statham) is investigating criminal gang activity in San Francisco with his partner Tom Lone (Terry Chen), and he is most intrigued to track down a master assassin known as Rogue. During a shootout between the Yakuza and the Triads Jack finds a bullet cartridge that Rogue is understood to favour, proving to him that the killer is in the country. Later, after the dust settles, Jack and Tom have planned a social evening with their wives, but it never happens: when Jack pulls up at the house, Rogue has been there before him, wiping out Tom and his family...
With the names of Jet Li and Jason Statham heading this movie, you might be expecting a high octane action romp, but you might be feeling let down by the time the credits roll. Scripted by Lee Anthony Smith and Gregory J. Bradley, this wasn't so much a beat 'em up as a have a hushed and angsty conversation-'em-up, with brief bursts of violence to punctuate the gloom. In fact, the filmmakers take this far more seriously than you want to them to, as where you you would be in the mood for some mindless escapism, this wants to muse on loyalty and associated topics.
One thing in War's favour, and that's a nicely diverse cast as far as the ethnicity goes, but although these actors and actresses have been highly entertaining elsewhere, in this they all have their moody hats on, so consequently are less interesting than they might otherwise have been should they have been given something other than stock characterisations to work with. In that cast are two stars of cult TV shows, Mathew St Patrick from Six Feet Under and Nadine Velazquez from My Name Is Earl, and reliable character actors with decent C.V.s such as John Lone and Luis Guzmán, but there could have been any number of similar other thesps in their roles with little overall improvement.
As for the plot, it's a murky one of one gang played off against the other by the man in the middle, Rogue, essayed by Jet Li with the apparent charisma bypass afflicting the rest of the cast. As all the while Jack and his team follow the clues (and the McGuffin, a pair of priceless horse statuettes) the Yakuza and Triads are encouraged to knock chunks out of each other, either side unaware that the other has been set up. The action may be choreographed by Corey Yuen, as trumpeted during the opening credits, but it's uninspired and what there is is over much too quickly. Just as you're settling down to a shootout or martial arts melée, it's over and back to the intrigue, which is far too involved for its own good. Then there's the twist, which places a faith in plastic surgery to make its recipient look completely different that hasn't been seen since Humphrey Bogart in Dark Passage. If I tell you that although Devon Aoki is in this she fails to wear any revealing clothes whatsoever, you get an idea of the misjudged tone here. It's simply no fun. Music by Brian Tyler.
[The Lionsgate Region 2 DVD is packed with extras, with two commentaries, a trivia track, featurette and gag reel.]