Director Todd Phillips' Hangover trilogy stands as a triumphalist celebration of rich, white douchebaggery in which a group of down-punching twats defend their status against shrill women and foreign weirdos. Phillips pulls that thread even further in War Dogs, his attempt at more dramatic, reality-based comedy. It's the ostensibly true story of a pair of 20-something bros who became wealthy arms merchants in 2008 by selling weapons to the U.S. military. That's not to suggest that David Packouz (Miles Teller) and Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) are fictional; their story was first reported in a sprawling 2011 Rolling Stone feature. But they might as well be. The film's tidy script, co-written by Phillips, is assembled into the "Save the Cat" screenwriting format that dominates mainstream Hollywood output.
Part-time masseuse David partners in gun trafficking with his charismatic childhood friend Efraim, who carries a fat roll of hundred-dollar bills and snorts cocaine by the pound. Efraim works as a middleman, buying on the cheap and arranging delivery straight to Middle East combat theaters. They draw the attention of Henry Girard (Bradley Cooper), a creepy arms merchant who wants the pair to move bullets to Afghanistan. The deal will make them ridiculously rich.
The film's breezy drive and bursts of comic energy largely divert attention from the flatness of its world and characters. Jonah Hill heaves War Dogs onto his back the way those terrifying, osteomuscular World's Strongest Man competitors carry refrigerators and tears past everyone else on the field, leaving his co-stars and director coughing in a Road Runnerish wake of dust. If people tell you War Dogs is good, what they mean is that Hill's performance is nuanced, funny and sharply observed.