Review: War Dogs
An entertaining enough blastBased on a true story, or rather, based on The Rolling Stone magazine article ‘Arms and the Dudes’, WAR DOGS is the rise and fall tale of two young guys who become arms dealers, make a fortune and then screw up.
Directed and co-scripted by Todd Phillips (he of THE HANGOVER trilogy), WAR DOGS races along nicely, but never escapes the confines of seen it all before cliché. Yup, we’ve been here before only better in Andrew Niccol’s LORD OF WAR (Nic Cage as an unscrupulous arms dealer growing a conscience), David O. Russell’s THREE KINGS (George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg as soldiers committing a crime and growing a conscience), or even Jason Reitman’s satirical THANK YOU FOR SMOKING (in which Aaron Eckhart and his fellow merchants of death make huge profits from the alcohol, tobacco and firearms industries, before Eckhart grows a conscience).
Jonah Hill is great (and big, and orange-tanned), a natural actor with the impeccable comedic timing he’s displayed in roles from SUPERBAD to MONEYBALL. But Hill’s is an act that needs a foil, as with Channing Tatum in 21 JUMP STREET, or Leo DiCaprio in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET. Here he’s teamed with Miles Teller, from the great WHIPLASH, and the godawful FANTASTIC FOUR. Next to Hill, Teller fades, coming across as an actor desperate to be taken seriously, and trying so hard you can see all the effort, which prevents him from being believable as a struggling entrepreneur, husband, father or real dude with real world problems.
It’s not a bad movie by any means. Entertaining, fast moving and often amusing, but never moving or surprising or genuinely involving. It’s like that Johnny Depp movie, BLOW, an entertaining but forgettable movie, forever in the shadow of Scorsese’s GOODFELLAS. Or, um, that Johnny Depp movie, BLACK MASS, an entertaining but forgettable movie, forever in the shadow of Scorsese’s THE DEPARTED.
Here the shadow is largely cast by LORD OF WAR, and DOGS OF WAR never feels original, daring or bold enough to go its own way. It tries to be outrageous, but never really lets Hill off the leash. Even though Hill’s office is dominated by a huge picture of Al Pacino in SCARFACE, covered in coke and blasting away with his “leeedle friend”, Hill may get to fire a couple of machine guns, but he’s never allowed to go full Tony Montana.
Sure, WAR DOGS tries to yank at the heartstrings and involve you in the emotional life of Teller’s character, but it doesn’t spend time building and earning our investment, beyond the two-dimensional realm of a weakly sketched pregnant-wife-kept-in-the-dark-back-home-in-a-multi-million-dollar-apartment. As a satire, it never hits home because (a) we just don’t care for these guys, and (b) two dudes making millions out of selling misery required a director with way more imagination than Phillips displays.
For me at least WAR DOGS amounts to a movie that’s not a million miles away from Michael Bay’s PAIN & GAIN – a big, glossy, fun, distasteful but pretty entertaining tale of two idiots trying to grab the American Dream by the neck and choke out a fast buck. Much like Hill’s bilss whilst firing a machine gun, it’s a movie that’s a loud, fast and thrilling experience, nothing new, but a blast while it lasts.