Saturday, August 20, 2016

Review: War Dogs

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.
Todd Phillips' "War Dogs" is a well-enough made film about interesting subject matter, but is weighted down by the fatal flaw of attempting to mimic a particular style of movie, but disregarding its most important attributes.

Based on a true story, the picture tells the tale of David Packouz (Miles Teller) and Efram Diveroli (Jonah Hill), two sleazeballs who made a fortune off selling weapons to the Pentagon during the George W. Bush years when the U.S. military was fighting two wars in the Middle East. For starters, the film makes the mistake of making Packouz the lead character, while it's Diveroli who's the more interesting - and easily more awful - of the two.

Phillips, who is best known for the "Hangover" films, of which I'm not much of a fan, wants to make a comedic story about a couple of slimy characters who hit the big time in the style of a Martin Scorsese film, down to the freeze frames and voice over narration. While the picture does a good job of stylishly relaying the story of these two guys, who made a killing off people killing each other, it makes the mistake of asking us to sympathize with its two leads. While the film could have been asking us to ponder the consequences of this pair's actions, it instead tries to make us care when the bloom is off the rose of their bromance.

As the film opens, David is a masseuse in Miami and the fact that he provides massages to rich old men is a running joke that's never particularly funny, but is repeated throughout the entire picture as if it were the best joke Woody Allen ever told. At a funeral for an acquaintance, he runs into Efraim, his best pal from high school whom he hasn't seen for some years.

It turns out that Efraim is in the arms business and is gradually building up a client list that includes the U.S. military, which is happy to pay the lower rates that Efraim is charging, all the while still making him rich in the process. Efraim, who has an annoying giggle and virtually no scruples, enlists David - a guy whom we are supposed to like a little better because he feels bad about constantly lying to his wife (Ana de Armas, who mostly gets the thankless role of the wife who gets to nag her hubby about all the bad behavior in which he is partaking) about his line of work - into his business as a partner.

The two build a business that involves shady dealings with another arms dealer (Bradley Cooper) who is on the U.S.'s terrorist watch list and a bunch of Albanians who are trying to sell off their country's massive weapons supply as the nation gets close to becoming a part of NATO. Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street" is an obvious influence here, but the difference being that while the behavior of Di Caprio and his cronies in that much better film was fascinating - and often funny - there was also the movie's challenging its audience as to why it wanted those guys to get away with what they were doing.

In comparison, "War Dogs" gives off the vibe that its characters are just a couple of pals who got in over their heads and that we shouldn't judge them too harshly because David begins to feel bad about lying to his wife and for the work he is doing and Efraim and David's relationship begins to fray because it's hard out there for an arms dealer. Or something like that.

I would, perhaps, be even harder on the film if it weren't fairly well made. The performances are solid and, due to its fascinating storyline, the picture is often suspenseful and fast paced. It's a decently made movie that is merely missing the elements that could have resulted in it being a good movie.

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