I was dreading “War Dogs.” From the trailer the film looked like it was aimed at people who loved “The Wolf of Wall Street” for all of the wrong reasons. A meandering, bro-ish stab at legitimacy brought to us by Todd Phillips, the master of meandering, bro-ish comedies.
If “War Dogs” was released 10 years ago you’d see the DVD nestled in between “American Wedding” and “Blow.” The kind of disposable garbage that will haunt every box of Blu-rays in every flea market from now until the day when the moon finally attacks and devours Earth.
I really didn’t want to sit through “War Dogs.”
As I begrudgingly settled into a half-empty theater, a trio of cheerful man-babies bounded up the aisle and sat behind me. For the next two hours, they talked freely and loudly. They marveled over the disturbing qualities of Jonah Hill’s giant head and, openly wondered what that thing was that was placed on the back of it (it was a yarmulke). With sarcasm they cooed, “how beautiful” it was every time Miles Teller kissed his on screen girlfriend, Ana de Arnas, with that smug Patrick Dempsey-mask he calls a face.
Every swear word was met with gales of laughter. Normally, this kind of grating nonsense would ruin any film-going experience but their odd sense of joy, excitement and irritation made a mediocre movie far more enjoyable than it actually was. If you know any of these three gentleman, please thank them and never watch anything without them ever again.
With them, “War Dogs” was memorable. Without them it was a Dollar General-ready “Goodfellas” after it was strangled by an Ed Hardy shirt and dumped in a toilet filled with Axe body spray.
“War Dogs” is a highly fictionalized account of Efraim Diveroli (Hill) a sociopathic, 22-year-old stoner and arms dealer who in 2007 conned his way into acquiring a $300 million contract with the Pentagon. Along with his partner David Packouz (Teller), the pair take advantage of a government initiative that allows small businesses to bid on U.S. military contracts. After a series of successful business ventures, Diveroli and Packouz find themselves involved with a goggle-eyed arms dealer (Bradley Cooper allowing his enormous goof-glasses to do most of the performing) with shady connections to a munitions supply in Albania. Ultimately this connection leads to a series of double-crosses, mild treason and awkward scenes where Kevin Pollak is shown not performing an impression of Columbo or Christopher Walken.
The major problem behind “War Dogs” is that the ‘true story’ the film is based around, isn’t particularly cinematic. The third act twist in which Diveroli and Packouz are forced to swap out the original Chinese packaging of their black market ammunition in favor of generic cardboard boxes pales in comparison to a scene 30 minutes into the movie in which the pair are forced to smuggle guns into Iraq. Of course that’s because the earlier exploit never happened in real life.
“War Dogs” takes a number of glaring liberties with its source material. In real life Diveroli and Packouz (who is actually a composite of two different Diveroli associates) were total incompetents, the defense department willfully ignorant and the real heroes – the Albanian whistleblowers – were murdered under mysterious circumstances. Yet, for all of this dramatic license, “War Dogs” is generic and simplistic.
Phillips shamelessly borrows from the Scorsese playbook with wannabe snappy narration, freeze frames, labored dark comedy and an obvious selection of classic rock hits (“War Dogs” is the second bad movie this month to sample “Fortunate Son”). Meanwhile, the film has nothing to say about the military industrial complex beyond, “Boy, jeepers it’s expensive!”
“War Dogs” was basically made to be forgotten and unless you are lucky enough to see it with the outspoken mystery men, don’t waste your time.
Mike Sullivan is a movie reviewer for Weekender. Movie reviews appear weekly in Weekender.
Starring: Jonah Hill, Miles Teller
Director: Todd Phillips
Weekender Rating: W 1/2
Length: 114 minutes