You are likely seeing a lot of advertising out there tagging the new film, War Dogs, as being from the director of the very funny Hangover trilogy – and its trailers lean heavily towards the comedic side of the movie – but this is a much more serious film than its marketing campaign leads you to believe. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but you should be prepared for relatively few laughs compared to most of writer/director Todd Phillips’ other pictures.
War Dogs is based on the true story of David Packouz (Miles Teller) and Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), two twenty-something ne’er–do–wells who, in the latter years of the George W. Bush administration, tap into the US Government’s lax military contract system and begin selling weapons and other military supplies to the Iraqi and Afghan armies.
The young entrepreneurs look to Brian De Palma’s Scarface (1983) movie for their inspiration, but the reality of their drug-induced and ill-conceived business plan is more of a Scarfarce, as it were. Efraim & David are in way over their heads, but they somehow still manage to get rich while taking advantage of our government’s own incompetence.
The name War Dogs refers to the bottom-feeders of the arms-supply chain, and the film’s story stems from a 2011 Rolling Stone article, The Stoner Arms Dealers, and the follow-up book, Arms and the Dudes, by Guy Lawson.
The film’s characters are not very sympathetic. In fact the only person I really cared about at all was David’s wife, Iz (Ana de Armas – an actress who, by the way, just might have the most beautifully hypnotic eyes I’ve ever seen.) Even Jonah Hill, who typically plays a likeable jerk, is a complete a-hole in this movie; and I get that’s the personality of the character he’s playing, but that fact doesn’t make the movie any more fun to watch.
The cast also includes Bradley Cooper in a small cameo as a legendary arms dealer, Henry Girard; and Kevin Pollak plays Ralph Slutzky, the unsuspecting initial investor in Efraim Diveroli’s Pentagon contracting scheme.
There are a handful of laughs in this movie, but for every earned chuckle there is a gratuitous shot of Hill shooting a machine gun that is somehow supposed to be funny. It isn’t.
This film had potential to be The Big Short of our military industrial complex, and I really wish that Phillips had stayed in that vein. As is War Dogs doesn’t carry the entertaining indictment that made The Big Short so successful. Phillips seems content with just telling the stoners’ story without much concern for social commentary. Grade: 6.5/10
Photos © Warner Bros.