-Despite a really interesting concept, War Dogs loses its bite after a solid first act.
If you’re a reader of this site’s reviews often, you’d probably know that legal and political implications and assertions about society in film are always interesting to me. It’s easy to get it wrong, thus my more annoyed reactions to films like the “Captain America” series, but are more likely to be pleasureful when the subject matter is handled correctly.
War Dogs is an example of the kind of film that annoys me. The idea of a comedic, energetic satire attacking the loophole in the arms industry that allows private contractors to make large dividends on transactions that should be illegal could be as interesting as a film like The Big Short from last year. Although I find The Hangover to be slightly overrated, it’s hard not also harbor excitement for the aforementioned idea to be brought to screen by Todd Phillips. The execution, however, is bland and uninspiring, like many of the political misfires that Hollywood has churned out over the last several years.
Our leads are Jonah Hill as Efraim Diveroli, a shyster who begins dealing repurposed firearms to various militaries, and Miles Teller as David Packouz, the former massage therapist whom he forms the business with. When they start landing large-scale contracts, things are good, if occasionally unethical, but when they begin to face problems with others in the business, such as Bradley Cooper’s Henry Girard, or issues at home with the dishonesty of the profession (Teller’s fiancee is played by a lovable Ana de Armas), the whole system begins to crumble.
The first act of the film is comedic, fast-paced and fun, as our two leads start their business and begin doing the craziest risks imaginable to rise to the top, led by Diveroli’s impossibly violent personality. The sheer mania of the situations that the characters are put in lends itself to laughs, but the film is edited frantically enough to keep the pace moving as well. However, once the weightier things begin creeping in to the subject matter, it spirals out of control into a bit of a muddled mess.
It also becomes less about the subtext and message of the film, but more about the fracturing relationship between the leads, where Teller’s family devotion and mistrust of Hill begins to result in some bad circumstances. Like usual, Hill is excellent, using both his dramatic chops and his aggressively attuned comedic side to deliver a strong performance; this includes a very silly laugh that he’s given the character. Teller, also, is fine, although I’m still waiting for his post-Whiplash poker play. This isn’t quite it.
Although well-acted, and for the most part, well-stylized, the film just really loses its energy and focus after the first act, and becomes a pretty bare-bones drama without much of an emotional core or driving premise. There isn’t really a villain, and the conflict resolution occurs in the blink of an eye after a too-long build up. Overall, as a comedy, it starts to deliver, but it never passes mediocrity on its more serious aspirations.
War Dogs (2016)
Director: Todd Phillips (Old School, “The Hangover” Trilogy, School for Scoundrels, Due Date)
Starring: Miles Teller, Jonah Hill, Ana de Armas, Bradley Cooper, and Barry Livingston
RT Score: 58%