War Dogs: A Real Howler [MOVIE REVIEW]
War Dogs Review
As director of The Hangover, War Dogs director Todd Phillips is a specialist in making movies that are “not as.” Not as funny as it thinks it is. Not as crazy as it pretends to be. Not as cool as it hopes it is. Not as funny as it should be.
Does that first paragraph sound like this review is going anyplace good? No? Give yourself a fuzzy toy and a treat. I wouldn’t say it’s a total howler. But there’s something about War Dogs that doesn’t work, and I can’t quite put my paw on it.
When film critics go to the chalkboard and scratch down all the things they want in a movie, this gunrunning comedy certainly has a good number of them. Real life story. Political importance. A sometimes clever script that’s interested in more than making you laugh. Regardless, it feels like running on three legs. It has the sensibility of an awards contender buried in a layer of insufficient talent.
War Dogs is based in real life. A few years ago during the Iraq War, a couple of small-time dorks (played here by Jonah Hill and Miles Teller) from Miami made a fortune selling weapons to the Pentagon before they finally bit off more than they could chew. The Peter Principle – that people rise to the level of their incompetence – is a ripe source for comedy. Its truth-is-stranger-than-fiction origins are calling for a hell-bent, absurd story. Instead, the real-life story feels too real.
War Dogs aims an arrow right through the heart of the military-industrial complex. It has the story to do so. Phillips doesn’t create the needed hallucinatory weirdness to pull it off – the way Robert Altman did with MASH or, for those into obscure Yugoslav films, Emir Kusturica does in Underground, another comedy about gunrunners. The film wants to be crazy but too often doesn’t make the leaps needed to get there. It tells the story plainly, hoping it’s absurd enough for the absurdity of the situation to carry it.
War Dogs’ best part is when the the two men hop in a truck loaded with pistols and drive them into Iraq. They have a quirky Muslim driver, and a gas stop in Fallujah ends with them being chased by jihadis. It’s the sort of comic craziness that the movie and idea promise. Too often, War Dogs doesn’t get to that point, or it doesn’t stay long enough to notice.