Friday, 19 August 2016

WAR DOGS - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Lame Arms Dealer Shenanigans Lacks Focus

War Dogs (2016)
Dir. Todd Phillips
Scr. Phillips, Jason Smilovic, Stephen Chin
Starring: Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Ana de Armas, Bradley Cooper, Kevin Pollak

Review By Greg Klymkiw

War Dogs is about assholes. That the picture is based upon real-life assholes certainly takes it out of the usual territory of male mayhem director Todd (The Hangover) Phillips has specialized in to date. Alas, aside from a knockout performance from Jonah Hill and superb support courtesy of Bradley Cooper and Kevin Pollak, the picture never quite lives up to its potential to explore the savagery of international arms dealers.

From an article, then full length book ("Arms and the Dudes") by investigative reporter Guy Lawson, the screenplay cobbled together by Phillips and his co-scribes Jason Smilovic and Stephen Chin never takes flight into the territory of black humour and/or outright satire that might have been its saving grace, especially since it never really works as a straight-up drama, nor a comedy.

Charting the story of old school chums Efraim Diveroli (Hill) and David Packouz (Teller) who team up to secure government contracts to provide arms to the U.S. military, the film reduces most of their actions to cliches. Packouz is a loser facing the responsibilities of being a husband and father who is swept up by his flamboyant buddy into the legal, but morally dubious world of supplying implements of destruction. When the temptation of riches beyond their wildest dreams dangles before them, they acquiesce to illegal activities which will ultimately lead to their downfall. Though fact-based, we've seen stories like this before and a movie like War Dogs needed far more than the derivative bargain-basement Scorsese-like voiceovers and montages driving it.

The film required genuine savagery. Perhaps it even needed to go into Robert Altman-like M*A*S*H territory to make its protagonists even vaguely understandable. If anything, the film seems like bargain-basement Todd Phillips. A lame fact-based version of The Hangover films with arms dealers replacing the hapless clowns of the aforementioned comedy trilogy just isn't very compelling.

Jonah Hill, however, continues to dazzle and display his remarkable range and gifts as an actor. He attacks his role with ferocious, maniacal and nasty glee that injects considerable life into the otherwise blah proceedings. Bradley Cooper pops up as a slime ball arms dealer infused with an oddly friendly malevolence and Kevin Pollak lights the screen up with both humour and slime whenever the dry cleaning mogul he plays shows up.

The entire domestic subplot involving Packouz's wife (Ana de Armas) is a drag, sucking the life out of the proceedings and once the story takes genuinely dark turns, the movie continues to go through the motions, doing very little to shock or move us.

By the end of the film, we're left with a perfunctory wrap-up of the actual events, but never do we feel like we've waded in the utter hell of the world these two men crawled through. They're ultimately less than assholes, they're slugs and vipers and how we're supposed to feel about either of them is finally one big question mark. We don't have to "relate" to them or even empathize with them. It might have been nice if we could have even mildly revelled in their sheer scumbaggery, but the movie doesn't even afford us that one meagre pleasure.


War Dogs is in wide release via Warner Brothers.