Movies that use arms dealers as the central characters face an immediate hurdle. The audience is asked to get behind people who dance around legal issues all in the name of a massive amount of greed.
There have been plenty of movies about greed. What those films usually don’t have is the specter of war hanging over the production. Tom Hanks didn’t have the charisma to break through in “Charlie Wilson’s War” and Nicolas Cage wasn’t entertainingly creepy enough to shake the problems in “Lord of War.” Chevy Chase completely missed the mark in “Deal of the Century.”
Now, along comes “War Dogs.” The film, based on a true story, looks at how a couple of industrious men in their early 20s become major players in the buying and selling of weapons. The entrepreneurs in this tale are David Packouz (Miles Teller), a licensed massage therapist who dreams of a brighter financial future, and Efram Diveroli (Jonah Hill), a fast talker who has never done a day of honest work.
These two friends reunite and immediately Packouz is pulled into Diveroli’s next big scheme. In 2005, the government put in new regulations to make sure small businesses could have the chance to make money on selling equipment to the military. It’s a big business, as it costs more than $17,000 to outfit a single soldier.
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Selling to the military is a big business, as it costs more than $17,000 to outfit a single soldier.
Not content to make good money on the crumbs left over from massive arms deals, the pair go after the whole pie. They are forced to work with more and more dangerous people on a plan that becomes more illegal with each passing day.
If you haven’t already been turned off by the concept of two guys trying to profit off war, then all you have to get past is the actors playing those greed mongers.
Hill returns to a role that he seems pigeonholed to play. He’s the guy who has a plan but instead of it helping a baseball team get better or a Wall Street whiz make a killing, he’s in it for himself. The only variation on what has become a continuing theme in Hill’s character selection is that this is one of the slimier roles as Diveroli sees himself as a real-life “Scarface.”
Their huge plans fall apart when they get caught trying to illegally sell old Chinese ammunition.
Director Todd Phillips works so hard to make Packouz an innocent victim in this story that he’s one good deed from saint consideration. Teller’s got an innocent face that helps, but he never fully sells the good guy role.
Director Todd Phillips tries to add touches of humor to “War Dogs,” but the jokes end up with as much power as shooting blanks.
“War Dogs” is a big change for Phillips, whose past work has featured over-the-top humor: “Old School,” “The Hangover,” “Due Date” and two “Hangover” sequels. He tries to add touches of humor to “War Dogs,” but the jokes end up with as much power as shooting blanks.
None of these problems completely sink “War Dogs,” but they don’t help. At least Phillips didn’t feel compelled to add a moral lesson to the mix. The audience can do that for him.
“War Dogs” suffers the same problems as other movies about arms dealers have faced: No matter how good the writing or performances, there is a dark cloud hanging overhead. Marginal writing and so-so performances leaves movies like “War Dogs” never providing nearly enough bang for the bucks.