When twentyish David Packouz (Miles Teller, "Whiplash") meets up with his old junior high buddy Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill, “The Wolf of Wall Street”) at a Miami funeral, he's been eking out a living selling bed linens to old folks homes. Efraim's also in sales, but he's a wheeler dealer taking advantage of the George W. Bush administration's FedBizOpps military supply program for small businesses. To their astonishment, the two stoners land a 300 million dollar contract to arm Afghan allies, but they're soon in over their heads as "War Dogs."
Cowriter (with Stephen Chin ("Another Day in Paradise" and "Lucky Number Slevin's" Jason Smilovic)/director Todd Phillips's latest is certainly far more entertaining than his last two "Hangover" sequels. Jumping off from Guy Lawson's 'Arms and the Dudes,' the filmmakers have goosed the Rolling Stone coverage with some Iraq hijinks and placed Packouz rather than another of their synagogue buddies in Albania, but on the whole, they've gotten to the heart of this stranger-than-truth story. As Diveroli says 'war is an economy' and the Bush administration was willing to look the other way as arms dealers 'circumvented' legal issues.
Phillips opens with graphic overlays of armed soldiers as Diveroli tallies up what he sees, each soldier outfitted in gear worth $17,500. When he realizes his old friend is struggling, he offers him a job at a 30/70 cut. Packouz doesn't tell his girlfriend Iz (Ana de Armas, "Hands of Stone") what he's up to foreshadowing the trust issues which will permeate his business with Diveroli, ironic as trust is the very thing Diveroli cites when bringing Packouz in.
There are two major deals detailed here. The first involves a shipment of berettas to Iraq, stalled because Packouz was unaware that Italy had outlawed shipments there the prior week. Diveroli pulls out the circumvention card, flying them in to Jordan. When they fail to get a permit to get them out, U.S. Captain Santos (Patrick St. Esprit, "Draft Day") threatens to pull the plug, so the dynamic duo fly to Jordan where Diveroli enlists Marlboro (Shaun Toub, "Iron Man 3") to drive them to Baghdad. 'Dick Cheney's America!' screams the triumphant dealer as U.S. troops intervene on their attack, Marlboro refilling the truck's fuel as they barrel down the road. The boys are seriously pumped by their exploits.
But it's the Afghan deal that will really put them over the top. At first, Diveroli thinks it's too logistically complex, but Packouz surprises him by hooking up with legendary arms dealer Henry Girard (Bradley Cooper). He might be on a U.S. terror watch list, but he's the perfect man to shadow fill their order. They win the contract, Diveroli incensed when he learns they underbid by over $50 million, but a severe problem turns into an additional windfall when they decide to repackage over 100 million rounds of illegal Chinese ammo, hiding its origin while also making it lighter to ship. But with Packouz on the ground in Albania, Diveroli, furious when he learns Girard's profit margin, reneges on his promise not to try and cut him out of their deal.
Hill, heavier now than ever, has created a sociopath with a half cackle/half bark of a laugh. The actor almost succeeds in making this "The Wolf of Wall Street" of arms dealing, his chummy come-ons masking the greedy control freak at his core. As the stakes are raised, his eyes begin to shift. Teller, meanwhile, provides the point of view. His Packouz hasn't landed on the right idea and he's amazed where he finds himself with Diveroli, flashes of triumph grounded by doubt and stress. Frankly, he fades into the woodwork here, an audience stand-in with none of the intensity of "Whiplash." Cooper has transformed himself, his slightly crossed eyes enlarged with glasses, his quiet demeanor amplifying his threat.
The global production offers the glitz of Miami Beach, a war torn Middle East (Morocco stands in) and a view of aging Albanian industry so depressing it recalls "Hostel." But like the rock soundtrack that pumps up the action, the film operates on a surface level, "Scarface" references and slogans ('Fake it 'til you make it.') standing in for satire. "War Dogs" is an enjoyable enough entertainment, but this adaptation has more bark than bite.
Robin did not see this film.
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