War Dogs (2016)
War Dogs (2016)

Genre: Dramatic Comedy and War Running Time: 1 hr. 54 min.

Release Date: August 19th, 2016 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Todd Phillips Actors: Miles Teller, Jonah Hill, Ana de Armas, Patrick St. Esprit, Shaun Toub, Bradley Cooper, Kevin Pollak

 


 

D

avid Packouz (Miles Teller) has an unfulfilling career as a massage therapist in Miami – and just spent his life’s savings on a bad investment of luxury bedsheets. When he discovers his girlfriend Iz (Ana de Armas) is pregnant, David knows he needs a more profitable vocation. Partnering with old friend Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) in his fledgling arms dealing company (amusingly dubbed AEY, without actually being an acronym) seems risky, but after the money starts pouring in, David is hooked. As the contracts to procure weapons for the U.S. government steadily get larger and more dangerous, David finds himself creating increasingly extravagant lies to keep Iz from the truth. When the company lands a three-hundred-million-dollar deal to supply munitions to soldiers in Afghanistan, the rapidly accelerating deception, mistrust, and peril surrounding his job begin to tear David’s world apart.

“War Dogs” corresponds to so many other films that it practically fits as a companion piece to be watched in conjunction with other features. Like “The Big Short” for the 2008 involvement in the arming of Afghanistan forces, and as a supplementation to “Charlie Wilson’s War,” the film also works as additional commentary on white collar crime, a la “The Wolf of Wall Street.” It’s the flashy, modern, hip, comic representation of armed conflict, utilizing lines like “eBay for war” and “Comic-Con with grenades” to spruce up the dark subject matter of gun-running, fraudulent shell companies, and the Pentagon’s intentional blind-eye policies toward Middle Eastern ally armament. After all, it’s directed by the man who brought audiences “Old School” and “The Hangover,” so comedy is expected to be kneaded into the plot – even when it doesn’t fit.

“I dropped out of high school before they covered international diplomacy.” There’s something curiously incongruous with the amount of levity witnessed in these particularly morbid affairs, though this occasionally gives the film its wit and uniqueness. In other moments, its enough that Jonah Hill dons an obnoxious laugh. The problem with sustained humor is that nothing can be taken as seriously as it ought to be, which discounts the moments that are supposed to be thrilling. Despite the movie opening to the narrator being pulled out of a trunk, beaten, and facially prodded by a handgun, a violent payoff is replaced by general timidity. Sequences that shouldn’t need or require laughs are forcibly given morsels of merriment – to an uneasy effect. This carries over to the familial melodrama of a newborn and a wife, who conveniently shuts up when money begins rolling in, only to reappear later when that cash grows to uncomfortable excesses (even though it’s never specified to what degree – and at what speed – they become rich) to voice her disapproval. The character of Iz is surely an invention for the plot, solely included to humanize Packouz, even though she’s the most unbelievable element of the whole “true” story.

But the screenplay is entirely sufficient to maintain the two-hour runtime, shifting between snappy one-liners and the humor inherent in such grotesque governmental shortcomings as the ones examined here (many of AEY’s actions were in compliance with laws), and youthful opportunists taking advantage of horribly failed political predicaments. Even though the introduction of David’s demeaning masseuse job and desperate bedclothes scheme are orchestrated for contrast, the film has an odd way of making the paradisiacal Miami Beach seem just as dangerous as bullet-riddled Fallujah. Indeed, the perils in both locations seem equivalent, considering scenes of theft and assault endured in Florida. The narration doesn’t help (it really should be Efraim’s story, not David’s); the self-proclaimed bottom-feeders aren’t given many opportunities to redeem themselves, even down to the final sequence, which casts further doubts on the more remorseful of the two; and the very mixed message about crime not paying (because it truly does) isn’t supported by the lenient punishments. But there’s nevertheless something intriguing about average guys with desk jobs spontaneously transforming into literal gun runners through war-torn Iraq, especially with Teller and Hill imparting their expected, quirky routines into this unbelievable yet reality-based yarn.

– The Massie Twins

  • 6/10