By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Four Beers) –
In the early 2000s the young David Packouz (Miles Teller) was a struggling entrepreneur in Miami, who made money as a massage therapist in between various unsuccessful sales ventures. Facing financial strain, and with a baby on the way with his wife Iz (Ana De Armas), David decides to follow his friend Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) into the lucrative business of arms dealing. Both Efraim and David are in their 20s and yet due to the high demand by the U.S. Government for contract bids, are able to find a niche doing small-time deals that nevertheless carry big rewards when factoring in illegal cost-cutting measures and corrupt practices, not to mention the Defense Department’s love of overspending.
War Dogs marks a decided turn for the serious from comedy director Todd Phillips. Indeed, the last time he explored a subject with any seriousness was his documentary about Punk Rock star G.G. Allin in 1993. That isn’t to say War Dogs isn’t funny, in fact the film is certainly more comedy than drama, but the real-world implications of what the film’s characters involve themselves in provide some poignancy that was not present in the off the wall comedies which he’s normally produced.
Jonah Hill is particularly bizarre as Efraim Diveroli. Efraim is portrayed as a sales wunderkind with an innate ability to make himself seen to be whomever his prospective clients want him to be. He is also a coke and weed addict whose obsession with getting high is only equaled by his appreciation for the movie Scarface (he even has a giant mural of Al Pacino as Tony Montana hung on the wall of his office). One scene in particular is very telling of his character, when Hill is stiffed for $300 in a bad weed deal, he responds in the time-honored fashion of brandishing a submachine gun and firing aimlessly. He does this not to get his weed, or the $300 back, he does it because it gives him a chance to be a badass, and to be seen as one by his friend. As David Packouz, Teller plays the typically Hollywood role of the “man in over his head”. Teller is effectively the straight man to Hill’s over the top performance, and it provides a much needed grounding to the film.
War Dogs has a strong first and second act, which firmly establish the way the Diveroli & Packouz put their business together and so quickly built a reputation in the industry. The bulk of the humor comes from the way neither Diveroli nor Packouz really understood the gravity of the world they were entering, and the fish-out of water aspects of seeing the characters scramble to deal with problems as small as navigating customs bureaucracy, and as large as dodging militants in the Anbar Province of Iraq with a truckload of pistols.
Where things start to fall off is when the story progresses to the downfall of their company, where the film takes a very familiar approach to the material. Much of the film’s humor disappears here, and instead the movie becomes a textbook crime and punishment story. The film would have benefited from expanding its scope a bit more in the final act. Too many movies recently have followed the rise and fall of business criminals without really taking time to explore and satirize the real culprits: the bureaucrats and politicians who allowed the system to fail so massively in the first place.
Because Director Todd Phillips relies on a few too many of these genre conventions, the movie’s overall impact ends up being much lesser than the sum of its parts. Ultimately, I was left feeling like I’ve seen a lot of these ingredients before, without a whole lot of new twists to hold my interest. With some popcorn and a cold soda the movie went down just fine, but I don’t see myself running back to the theater, or hunting it down when it comes out to VOD. My advice is to pay for a cheap matinee and call it a day.
War Dogs doesn’t do anything that far removed from Lord of War, a similarly themed story of modern day gun running. Fans of the latter will find a similar itch being scratched here, and fine performances from Miles Teller and Jonah Hill keep things interesting.
War Dogs (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever a gun is brandished
Take a Drink: when drugs are used
Do a Shot: any time Dick Cheney is referenced
Take a Drink (Reality Check edition): whenever you catch yourself smiling at the criminal achievements of these real-life characters. Just remind yourself that cinema is an amazing thing, and you don’t really think that way about these assholes.