Wednesday, January 29, 2014


Directed by Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson
94 mins.  Color.
Blu-Ray from Drafthouse Films

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 Having a cast made up entirely of twelve to fourteen year olds is a mistake.  Having said kids use swears and say things like, "I have killing techniques" is a mistake.  Using lines like, "You're a know-it-all dick," and having fake eye-glowing laser beams is a mistake.  Despite all these mistakes and the very uncomfortable dialogue, this movie works pretty well.  Probably because the red-headed mop-top kid at one point says, "God is so gay."

When I was thirteen, my friend Tony O'Meara and I bought paintball guns.  My parents' house was on an abandoned golf course, and we'd use that open space as our own battleground.  A number of other kids would come over and we'd pick teams and play to the death.  I'd come home daily with a number of welts and a fabricated sense of strategy, or how I'd win next time.  All of us would take the game too seriously, and you could count on at least one person getting injured every time.  

I Declare War manages to capture the overly-serious tone that young boys take these kinds of games.  Unfortunately, the plague of bad performances and unnatural dialogue did manage to take me out of the movie every time I started to really strongly engage, but the extremely ambitious scope manages to keep this one worthwhile.

The Rules of War:
#1: Generals pick teams and base.  You cannot move bases.
#2: When you are shot, you are paralyzed until you count off ten steamboats
#3: When you are hit with a grenade you are dead.  Go home.
#4: You win when your general captures the other team's flag.

After the war, you go to the little blonde kid's (P.K.) house and eat pizza and watch Patton.

P.K. is a know-it-all dick who has an unrealistic knowledge of military history and strategy.  His best friend, Paul Kwon (not P.K.?) is a dude that just gets captured and tortured.  There's a fat kid, a loser kid, a smart chess-playing girl, a red headed mop-top kid that swears a lot and hates God, and then there's Alter Boy, who is a big time sheltered church kid that is pretty much like this kid that I grew up with named Gavin.  There's also a really dumb silent character that has a husky.  So, pretty much G.I. Joe characters.  The writer, Jason Lapeyre, says that this film took him ten years to write, so he could make each character multi-layered.  Which seems overkill to me, because they are all recognizable archetypes.  The bully fat kid is pretty good, though...

Youthful imagination and fantasies meld with reality.  At one point a kid will be holding a big log, and the next it will be a bazooka.  Conversations veer wildly from what kids want to hear to what other kids actually say.  About a half hour into the film, it changes tone and the film starts to take a far more serious turn and the film improves drastically.  

The fat stupid kid (Skinner) captures Paul Kwon.  And, then Skinner ties him to a tree, lays a flat board on his chest and starts to put pressure on him.  The torture scene actually ends up being extremely tense.

In the end, the kids are too self-aware, and the social commentary (Lord of the Flies comparisons aside) is too blatant.  But, lines like, "Remember when you threw noodles at me?" and "Fuck the rules" are so dumb that I laughed aloud.  And, the mop-top kid blows up a squirrel with red lightning that shoots from his eyes.  So, there's that.

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Can't act.

The Goods:
Drafthouse is probably the best theater chain / distribution company around right now.  Picking up titles like Miami Connection, Ms. 45, Wake in Fright and The Visitor have elevated them to a new level.  Likewise, they do a very nice job with each release.  For instance, the booklet with Miami Connection offers a much deeper understanding of their finding and releasing it.  I Declare War, unfortunately, is missing that sense of introspection.  The booklet is simply photos.  You do get some nice features, including two audio commentaries.  There's also a scene of the kids going through boot camp, and that's pretty funny.  Likewise, it's presented extremely well.  It looks and sounds great. 

Set Yourself Up:
  • Don't take this one too seriously.  Your frame of mind is important with this one.  Lower your expectations.
  • Grab some sticks from out in the yard.  Point them at your cat like it's a crossbow.
  • Prepare your killing techniques.
- J. Moret

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