Starring Miles Teller, Jonah Hill, Ana de Armas, Bradley Cooper,
In many ways Todd Phillips new film War Dogs follows the marketing principle of last years The Big Short. It’s all comedy and energy in the trailer, about two young goofy arms dealers. Ticket buyers are likely to feel the bait and switch, since Phillips trilogy The Hangover is used as a lure. Like The Big Short or even Pain & Gain, War Dogs has some outrageous moments, nearly all showcased in the trailer, but for the most part this is a serious story about two guys playing a corrupt system. “[explicative] the American tax payer,” Hill’s character says when faced with doing what’s right or making more money. Yet again Phillips films promote and glorify illegal drugs, disparage women, and idolize the anti-hero.
Pot smoking, college dropout David Packouz (Teller) goes from massaging old rich dudes in Miami to million dollar deals when he reunites with his grade school buddy Efraim Diveroli (Hill). AEY is the company Diveroli created, it doesn’t stand for anything, but the game behind the front is to legally be the middle man between the US Government buying military weapons online and whoever out in the world needs to sell them. “I love Dick Cheney’s America,” Diveroli screams. Both Packouz and Diveroli claim they are against the Iraq war, but see no reason why they can’t profit off it. After one large deal where they risk their lives to deliver guns to a US Captain in the middle east, the partners feel invincible and go after bigger deals. “When does the truth ever help anybody”.
War Dogs ultimately fails by denying the viewer something to invest in emotionally.
The content you see in the trailer not-withstanding, War Dogs is another serious film about corruption. Diveroli idolizes Scarface (take a look at the poster), and while Hill is used in the film mostly for comic relief, the instigator and the marquee name due to his previous box office success, Teller is in the driver’s seat. The problem with Miles Teller’s performance here is it’s just like everything else, Teller playing Teller. With Hill grandstanding, featuring a weight gain and an uncomfortable laugh, and Teller playing his usual, there isn’t much to brag about performance wise on this one.
Not even when Bradley Cooper shows up near the end of the film can War Dogs regain momentum. The Big Short wasn’t a favorite of mine, but at least it found creative and unique ways to deliver a story that would otherwise have been non-cinematic. Phillips can’t quite find that balance between true story and entertainment. At no point in this journey does the audience find sympathy for Packouz. When his wife walks out on him, when he has a gun to his head, when he realizes even his best friend isn’t a friend, not even then do we care about his well-being. War Dogs ultimately fails by denying the viewer something to invest in emotionally. We watch, say hmmm, and then leave the theater.
Like it’s corrupt characters, War Dogs pretends to be one thing while in reality is something completely different on the inside.