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War Dogs tells the true story of a struggling salesman (Myles Teller) who teams up with a repellent old school friend (Jonah Hill) to set up as a pair of military contractors. That’s arms dealers to you and me. The pair hustle and bullshit their way through various montages to reach the top of the arms trade during the second Iraq war. They get richer. Their dealings get shadier.
It’s really difficult to make an anti cool stuff movie. Flying around the world, being outrageously wealthy, having access to sex, drugs and guns is all inherently kinda fun looking. If you are going to make an anti greed movie it might help the moral to land at the end if you don’t spend the preceding two hours eye fucking the shit out of everything like these two dickheads do.
Jonah Hill is great as the obnoxious slimeball with no qualms about lying to enrich his own giggling, man child, fat ass – Iraqi and American corpses be damned. He’s at his best when allowed bounce off anything which isn’t often beyond one brief interrupted dinner party. Overall he comes across like a dude that loves Cartman i.e. not as funny as actual Cartman. You get the sense that the movie doesn’t know how to feel about him – when he cuts in line in a middle eastern airport proclaiming ‘It’s OK, I’m American’ it’s not clear if we’re meant to laugh at him or cheer.
Myles Teller’s protagonist takes ages to realise that his transparently awful friend is awful. This is the guileless, default protagonist shaped human we have to root for. It’s as if Brody took two hours to realise that Jaws was a fucking shark. His girlfriend is there to look pretty, hold the baby and motivate our hero to act like a half decent human being.
A big reason this doesn’t ever really work is that the choices being made feel so derivative. Look at the soundtrack to get a sense of how uninspired this is. ‘Fortunate Son’ plays over shots of soldiers and helicopters swooping round a warzone. It’s a xerox of a xerox of a xerox. Todd Philips, who directed the Hangover movies as well as the really great comedy Old School has obviously been watching The Wolf of Wall Street. He clearly loves the style of that movie so much that, in rushing to duplicate it, he’s forgotten to be either smart or all that funny. Instead, we’re meant to be thrilled by moves that other filmmakers do better and sad when the ride comes to an end.
Jonah Hill’s character has a love of Scarface (DePalma’s version, obvs) and seems to have absorbed some of Pacino’s Mannerisms. This is the movie equivalent of that kind of guy. It’s something that has absorbed and is influenced by the usual bro porn without adding anything new or surprising. That may be the point but I doubt it.
War Dogs is in cinemas now. Check out the trailer below.
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