There are two kinds of action movies. On the one hand you've got your legitimate films with engaging characters, compelling plots, skilled actors, and perhaps even some themes or real ideas. These are films and they can be judged like most other movies.
The second species of action movie is a bit more primitive. While the primary cinematic experience of the first kind is to tell a story, this second variety could perhaps be best described as action pornography. This seems like a good opportunity to coin a term, let's go with a portmanteau of some sort. Pornaction? Actionography? Poraction? Hmm... Portion? Never mind.
With the action-porn film the plot, characters, acting, dialogue, and action are all pretty incidental. The purpose of the film is simply to feature thrilling action sequences. Such films need to be judged differently than other movies. It only makes sense to judge them based on the standards upon which they present themselves. I mean who in their right mind would critique "Deep Throat" or "Debby Does Dallas" based on the acting?
Such is the only way to effectively judge "War," the new action film starring Jet Li and Jason Statham. The plot is fairly basic and incidental but for the sake of the review it's worth mentioning. The film starts with FBI agents Jack Crawford (Statham) and his partner Tom Lone (Terry Chen) encountering one of the most notorious, mysterious figures in the Asian organized crime group the Yakuza. He's called Rogue and he's played by Jet Li. The two manage to shoot him but he escapes. Rogue then gets his revenge by venturing out to Lone's home and murdering him, his wife, and child. This prompts Crawford to begin an obsessive quest to catch the assassin, a particularly difficult quest considering that Rogue frequently visits plastic surgeons, getting a new face every six months. It isn't until 3 years later that Crawford finally gets on Rogue's trail by identifying his signature bullets at a crime scene.
Judged as a film this is pretty crappy stuff. Plot-wise it's often a bit hard to follow and the acting is painfully bad. I haven't seen dialogue so woodenly read since the last of the new Star Wars movies.
But that's all OK. We're not going to hold that against the film. The only question that matters: is the action good enough to endure sitting through the lousy non-action sequences? No, it's not.
It's really pretty simple to gauge this. A simple question: how many action sequences are there - if any - that you vividly remember and want to watch again? There are times when I'm hanging out with a large group of friends and we might be waiting for people to show up or we want to have something on but not sit through an entire movie. There are plenty of action movies that I'll pull out and say "Oh, you just have to see this scene. This is the most awesome action scene ever!" I might pull out "District B13" and show the opening action chase scene featuring David Belle doing his amazing parkour moves. Or I might through on "The Protector," a Thai action film starring Tony Jaa. There's this incredible one-take, uncut sequence that lasts four or five minutes in which the hero busts into this secret club and proceeds to beat down anyone foolish enough to get in the way. And then there's any number of scenes from the recent action champion "300."
"War" is pretty forgettable when it comes to such sequences. There's Rogue's assault on a Yakuza strip club/dance club early on in the film and that's about it as far as stuff that really sticks. A part of the problem is the visual style chosen by the director, Phillip G. Atwell. It's his first feature film after doing many videos for Eminem, 50 Cent, and other rappers. He adopts the language of music videos with far too many fast cuts and close-ups. Thus many of the action sequences are difficult to appreciate. Sorry, but to enjoy the action you have to be able to see it.
This is not the ultra-hip, must-see action-porn flick of the year. For that we'll have to wait and see if the upcoming "Hitman" or "Shoot 'Em Up" fit the bill.