Reviews for the Easily Distracted

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
War Dogs

Title: War Dogs

Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote: 
Bart: There are no "good" wars, with the following exceptions: The American Revolution, World War II and the Star Wars trilogy.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film:  Two and a half copies of the Doors' Morrison Hotel out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis: Bros before international arms conventions.

Tagline: "Money, corruption and the American dream."

Better Tagline: "I'm shocked, shocked, to find war profiteering going on here."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Nineteen-year-old David Packouz (Miles Teller) isn't enjoying life much as a Miami massage therapist, driving a beater to clients' houses and parking next to their luxury autos. So it's a happy coincidence when he runs into childhood buddy Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) at a funeral. Diveroli is doing pretty well for himself as a low-level supplier for the U.S. military, trolling federal websites for contracts unnoticed by the bigger fish. As luck (and backlash against no-bid contracts) would have it, American military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq mean potential windfalls, and Diveroli is looking for a partner. 

"Critical" Analysis:
 War Dogs is difficult to categorize. It's a comedy about two wholly unqualified people procuring armaments for the U.S. military. Armaments, when used, generally end up killing people, which isn't really humorous. In that sense, it's a black comedy, but in order to make that work, director Todd Phillips would have to give us some sense of the repercussions of the characters' actions. He doesn't really succeed, but more on that later.

Admittedly, there are some funny moments. The movie's based on a true story (loosely: The notorious drive through the "Triangle of Death" never actually happened), which helps amplify the absurdity. Phillips also has a gift for taking locations traditionally considered unsightly (southern Iraq, Albania) and making them look occasionally exotic, if not entirely hospitable. But then, Phillips has also been good at glamorizing the unglamorous (see also Las Vegas). 

Turns out it's necessary to pull these tricks out in order to distract you from how unpleasant Packouz and Diveroli really are. Packouz is bad enough, constantly lying to the wife he insists he loves (Ana de Armas) and only growing a spine when his own life is threatened by a sinister arms dealer (played with what passes for sinister by Bradley Cooper). It doesn't hurt that Teller is eminently unsympathetic, and not just because he helped ruin the latest Fantastic Four.

But it's Hill who really ensnares us with his loathsomeness. Never one known for his range, Hill doesn't so much stretch to meet Diveroli's character requirements as he does briefly stand on his tiptoes, thespianly speaking. Credit where it's due, in Diveroli, Hill has finally sprinkled one of his trademark obnoxious jackass characters with a little actual evil, and it's the eventual bringing forth of the arms dealer's dark side that gives War Dogs what little resonance it has. 

Because it isn't in the message, which — in case the title card shout-outs to Dick Cheney didn't make it clear — doesn't go much beyond "war is bad, and the people behind it are often corrupt." This won't come as news to most of you, but for anyone who hasn't spent the better part of the past decade making comedies about thirtysomething man-children constantly sabotaging their own lives, it's fairly old hat.

And for all intents and purposes, War Dogs really is Hangover IV: The Bush-Cheney Years. Those aforementioned aesthetics that are apparent throughout the film don't really jibe with the intermittent moralizing. If Phillips is trying to make it look like Packouz and Diveroli finally got what was coming to them (spoiler: the former gets seven months' house arrest, the latter four years in prison), it kind of gets lost in the number of scenes where scantily clad women are in the background for no apparent reason.

Still, we don't want to fault him too much. War Dogs at least tries to tell a story; it's just too bad that story is too busy high-fiving itself.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar