Wednesday, August 17, 2016

War Dogs: Movie Review

Balances the true story with comedy.

War Dogs starts cynical. War is not about freedom or whatever other noble pursuit the government is using the media to sell the public on; it’s about money. A movie about war, weapons dealings, illegal actions and shady government contracts isn’t necessarily a comedy. But combine that with two pot-smoking, wise-cracking idiots, and you’ve got War Dogs – a comedy. It balance its cynical message and extreme story by always staying on the right side of funny.   2016

Directed by: Todd Phillips

Screenplay by: Stephen Chin, Todd Phillips, Jason Smilovic

Starring: Miles Teller, Jonah Hill

The plot –two twenty-something guys buy U.S. government contracts to sell weapons to the military – is made simple and told very straight-forward. I’m assuming very few us of have much knowledge about how that’s actually accomplished, and the filmmakers know that. But hey, neither do David Pachouz (Miles Teller) and Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill)! Efraim is a guy who thinks he is Al Pacino in Scarface, and therefore he will be Al Pacino in Scarface.

Thanks to Hill’s effortless, game-changing performance, Efraim will be whatever anybody wants him to be. If he should be a good, little Jewish boy, then that’s what he’ll be; if he needs to be a drug-dealing gangster, then that’s what he’ll be; and if he needs to be a Christian, God-fearing, American patriot in order to deal with the American military, then he’ll put all of his “God Bless America”-isms to good use. It’s a great performance because he completely sells Efraim’s unscrupulous nature, makes the audience fear him and respect him, while being flat-out hilarious.

Efraim isn’t actually an idiot, even though he can sell you on that idea at any time, he’s done his research. He knows how the U.S. military works, and he can sell himself. David is self-described as lost. Meaningless jobs with no direction, he looks back on his life and decides his happiest occurred when he and childhood best friend Efraim got arrested together. So with Efraim back in town, and beliefs in how to make millions of dollars in the gun running trade, David will become an arms dealer.

The comedy balance works. Although this is a true story that most of us would probably like to believe isn’t real (like American Ultra and Men Who Stare at Goats), War Dogs sticks to comedy and keeps the more thought-provoking messages at the beginning and the end.

The bulk of the movie is the story – what are they trying to do, how are they going to do it, and what is going to go wrong. There are a few pacing issues, but whenever you feel that the story is starting to drag, Jonah Hill pulls the audience right back in a one-line zinger. And each turn in the movie is followed by another brilliant song choice. The soundtrack is filled with hilariously impactful classic rock songs. Like Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows”: “Everybody knows that the dice are loaded, Everybody knows the fight was fixed, The poor stay poor, the rich get rich.” Or when Efraim is ‘practicing’ with an AK47 and Pink Floyd is singing “So you think you can tell heaven from hell” in the background.

There are definitely Hollywood moments – like a guy hanging out of the side of a truck, pouring in gasoline, while driving on an empty tank at full speed on dirt roads in Iraq, while being shot at. But scenes like that are necessary to up the entertainment quotient. War Dogs survives by just telling the story of two idiotic guys who got in way over their heads, and using the inherent comedy of that story to full effect.

Similar Titles:

American Ultra (2015) - Goes for more action than comedy, but is entertaining.

The Interview (2014) - Hapless idiots plot to kill a foreign leader and kill too much of the comedy along the way.

Pain & Gain (2013) - Not much action, but there is comedy as muscleheads set off to achieve the American dream.