Sunday, August 21, 2016

Movie Review #473: "War Dogs" (2016)

Movie"War Dogs"
Director: Todd Phillips
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 54 minutes
Image Source
A massage therapist teams up with his best friend from junior high to start a business selling guns to the US military.

"War Dogs" is directed by Todd Phillips and is based on the true story of American arms dealers Efraim Diveroli and David Packouz, played here by Jonah Hill and Miles Teller. The primary focus is on the character of David Packouz, who goes from being a massage therapist in Miami working for $75 bucks an hour to an international arms dealer working on a $300 million dollar weapons supply contract with the US military. Being directed by Todd Phillips, who is responsible for movies like "The Hangover" series, "Old School," and "Starsky & Hutch," many expected this to be a comedy, and the marketing for the film certainly didn't try to dissuade this notion. This is very similar to what happened with "Whisky Tango Foxtrot" earlier in the year, how the film was marketed as a comedy and people were surprised and off put when it wasn't. Prepare yourselves, the same can be said of "War Dogs." At best, this film is a dark comedy, but as a whole, it's really more of a biographical drama with a few ironically humorous situations and lines of dialogue. It almost seems lost in a middle ground between genres, never totally sure what it wants to be. There are dramatic moments and some darker comedic ones, but it's also got a couple of scenes meant to be thrilling, all while attempting to be an indictment of the military industrial complex by shedding a light on the use of war as a means to drive the economy. It wants to examine these issues the same way "The Big Short" delved into the 2007-2009 housing and financial crises, but manages to do so with far less sophistication and a much more bro-ha-ha approach.

Luckily, the acting in "War Dogs" is acceptable and really drives the entire movie when the story suffers from an identity crisis. Both Jonah Hill and Miles Teller perform their parts convincingly, but Hill is definitely the standout. He plays a very obnoxious and reactionary character in Efraim Diveroli, powered by gaining money and screwing anyone he can to get more of it. He never shows his true persona, instead opting to fit who he is perceived to be based on who he is with at the time. Diveroli is the kind of guy who idolizes the Brian De Palma classic "Scarface" and his rise to power as a drug kingpin, but forgets Montana wound up dead in the end. Miles Teller's David Packouz is the far more levelheaded of the two business partners. Desperate to get himself out of financial hardships, and with a baby on the way with his girlfriend Iz, played by Ana de Armas, Packouz teams up with junior high bestie Diveroli. He can't help but love all the money coming in at first, until he wises up and finally sees Efraim may actually screw him in the long run. Kevin Pollak also has a limited but impactful role as their silent business partner Ralph Slutzky, who owns a chain of dry cleaners and thinks he is investing in doing the lord's work with a devout man in Efraim. Finally, Bradley Cooper plays Henry Girard, a bad ass gun runner who eventually teams up with the guys in order to fulfill their hefty order for the American government. In his limited capacity, Cooper is also effective, talking in a deeper-than-normal voice and with slicked back hair because, you know, he's a gun runner. Girard is also not what he seems, which is a constant theme throughout the film.

We were really hoping for a lot more from "War Dogs," but in the end, we were left with a product that was only "fine," which is super disappointing. This film doesn't know what it wants to be and gets muddled down by trying to be too many things all at once. Todd Phillips may not have been the right directorial choice for this movie, and with too much Miles Teller voice over and not enough risks being taken in its storytelling, we suggest holding off on this one until it comes out to watch at home.

My Rating: 6/10
BigJ's Rating: 6/10
IMDB's Rating: ~7.4/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: ~59%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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