MOVIE: WAR DOGS
STARRING: MILES TELLER; JONAH HILL; KEVIN POLLAK; ANA DE ARMAS
DIRECTED BY: TODD PHILLIPS
AMovieGuy.com's RATING: 2 Stars (Out of 4)
War Dogs is the type of movie audiences get after years and years worth of film students study the work of Martin Scorsese. Although I could point to a numerous amount of other directors that have stolen from the master (David O. Russell always comes to mind), there is a difference between homage, use of similar techniques, and straight up being a copycat. In director Todd Phillips (Old School, The Hangover trilogy) case, his newest film- War Dogs, feels like an attempt to smash The Wolf of Wall Street into Goodfellas and pass it off as his own. Although this is a strong story, it's the wasted potential that lingers longer than what the final product reveals. It's all squandered away, failing to be funny or tell an exciting story.
This is a “based on true events” tale, taken from Rolling Stone's “Arms and the Dudes” article written by Guy Lawson. It makes for the type of bro-tastic entertainment that would be worthy of getting the Scorsese treatment. Taking place during the time of the Bush/Cheney presidency, where the Iraq war dominated headlines, and a pursuit of dispersing of the Taliban came at a price. Not the value of living, but dollars and cents. This is where David Packouz, played by a boring Miles Teller, comes into play. He opens with a narration (I'll get to that a bit later) explaining how "each U.S. Solider has a value of over $12,000 of military weapons and gear on them alone." The story proceeds with David feeling lost, attempting to sell bed sheets to nursing homes, before eventually getting himself involved in the business of an arms dealer, where the money would flow for selling weapons to the United States military with his low-life, goofy laughing, friend Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill).
What sticks out is a surprising lack of energy to War Dogs. The title of the movie is a term used to describe the work our two main characters do. They made their money creating a company called AEY- which stands for nothing, absolutely nothing- selling weapons to the government by winning bids on anything from grenades to guns. The script from Phillips, Stephen Chin, and Jason Smilovic, meanders along, taking place on the coasts of Florida, using popular music that is either on the nose or on everyones fathers playlist, while highlighting the rise of wealth for these two bone heads. The main problem, and there are many, is that the script never gets below surface level. Teller is playing a lifeless man-child, while Jonah Hill, doing strong work, must have put on a significant amount of weight, and it's completely wasted on us. There was potential for an Oscar-worthy performance from Hill and he wants to deliver it. The material never lets him achieve greatness.
Business for the two is a rocket projection, as their rags-to-riches tale ushers them from their start as young pups, working at a hole in the wall office, to trying to be big dogs. There is a humorous scene where they are in a desperate position and must deliver guns through the “triangle of death” in the middle east. The high-tension situation earns a few laughs and is the high-point of the movie. Soon, they are in a corner office on the top floor, wearing suits instead of sweatpants. Gaining this much wealth can't happen without an illegal deal, which occurs when middle-man arms dealer Henry Girard (Bradley Cooper) comes into play, even though he is on an FBI watchlist. Meanwhile, David's wife- Iz, played by Knock Knock actress Ana de Armas, is the only female representation of the film, and is subjected to a character that is often nagging, while oblivious to the ways they're making millions. Her character is one-dimensional and borderline sexist.
Throughout all of this is that non-stop narration from Teller I was telling you about. I have always viewed the use of narration as a lazy tool to help explain things to an audience. In this instance, it feels really lazy. It's like a book on tape with moving pictures. That's not to say narration can't work, such as the ways it is used successfully in Scorsese's films such as Casino. It's just that I am smart enough to figure out the plot through the performances, instead of Miles Teller explaining it to me.
Overall, War Dogs is a confused attempt at Phillips' version of what passes as dramatic comedy with a moral compass. It fails on almost all those levels. It's not very dramatic, or funny, and leaves you caring so little about the characters at hand. Jonah Hill gives a strong performance and the story is interesting, but this dog left me feeling very disappointed.
Written by: Leo Brady