War Dogs

'War Dogs' movie poster

Release: Friday, August 19, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Todd Phillips; Stephen Chin; Jason Smilovic

Directed by: Todd Phillips

The unbelievability factor really works in War Dogs‘ favor. It has given a director of outrageous comedies and indeterminate skill considerable leverage. It has given actors who like playing jackasses free range to be themselves and we would never know the difference because this true story is ridiculous to begin with. For blind devotees of Todd Phillips getting to know the actual truth is not as important as having an approximated version of it delivered in an amusing and crass way.

See, there’s one thing you kind of have to be in order to enjoy movies made by The Guy Who Brought You The Hangover: you have to be easy to please. You need to be unapologetically so. Take the guy who sat behind me and to my right, for example: this man(-child) laughed at damn well every line that came out of Jonah Hill’s mouth. To this satisfied customer, Phillips could not put a foot wrong. You need to be in that mindset if you are to get the intended amount of entertainment out of War Dogs, a dramatic comedy about how two dopes wind up landing a $300 million arms-dealing contract with the American government.

Despite much of the film being heavily fictionalized — the drive through The Triangle of Death and that pit-stop in Fallujah, yeah that never happened . . . although I bet that towel falling off that rich client’s ass did — this bumpy ride across foreign borders and into legal gray areas becomes a pretty good watch. I mean, a lot of this stuff really happened and you just can’t help but become curious as to how and when their ultimate downfall begins. Maybe it’s when they violated the American arms embargo against the Chinese by repackaging 100 million rounds of AK-47 ammunition — 42-year-old, substandard Chinese bullets to be more accurate. Maybe it’s the fact they forgot to get their boys paid for those efforts. Maybe it’s that both of them — high school buddies Efraim Diveroli (Hill) and David Packouz (Miles Teller) — really were just money-hungry douchebags utterly deserving of the stigma attached to their line of work.

Yes, I think it’s that last one, a sense of fatalism, that makes War Dogs entertaining on any level. The peace of mind knowing that no matter what sequences of success-building and montages of money-stockpiling are put in front of us these unlikable, completely out-of-their-depth numbskulls are going to get their comeuppance. Phillips works pretty hard at steering us in another direction though, and yet there is a surprising amount of fun to be had while it lasts. Of course, the whole thing’s rigged with many of his unimaginative storytelling methods, like the lazy voiceover provided by Teller and highly interruptive chaptered segments with cutesy titles like ‘God Bless Dick Cheney’s America’ and ‘That Sounds Illegal.’

His film is based upon a Rolling Stone article later expanded for a novel based on the rise to prominence of Efraim’s start-up company AEY, which would eventually become a major weapons supplier for the Department of Defense. Ultimately AEY totalled $200 million in contracts dealing in ammunition and assault rifles, amongst other weapons, and its demise inspired the government to reevaluate how they would secure contracts for the future. (In other words, gone were the days of hiring stoners to do the dirty work. Fucking pot heads, man.)

Hill and Teller provide an easy repartee that won’t be difficult to find in other, albeit more traditional, stoner comedies. Even if Hill is now typically a decade older in real life than the characters he chooses, he’s still believable as a 21-year-old arms-dealer (or is that gun-runner?) because . . . well, that freedom to believe whatever you want rule as I mentioned above. Believe all of it or believe none of it (both of which would be too extreme of a reaction in my opinion). Teller has gone back to playing less interesting individuals. All he gets to do is set a bad example for husbands and new fathers everywhere. He becomes the guy who has to explain his lies to his wife when the story needs some tension.

Very little about War Dogs‘ presentation or execution strikes you as incendiary but the source material is so outlandish you’d be forgiven for thinking Phillips wanted to make this just for the opportunity to blow certain aspects out of proportion. Casting regular collaborator Bradley Cooper as a shady intermediary named Henry Girard counts as proof. We didn’t need another famous face in the mix but seeing Cooper appear in a war film that’s very, very un-American Sniper is more than a little amusing. I cackled like a hyena* when he states that he’s “not a bad man, but sometimes [he] asks [him]self what a bad man would do.” I’m not sure if I was supposed to, but I did. I felt like my friend in the row behind me there. It took me until the very end of the film, but finally I felt my money had been decently spent.

I guess what I’m saying is that despite my problems with Phillips’ generic brand — though it must be said generic isn’t the same as incompetent, lest we forget things like Old School and yes, The Hangover, two genuinely great comedies — if you give him the right material to run with anything is possible. You might have a really good time if you can let go of preconceived notions for long enough.

Jonah Hill and Miles Teller in 'War Dogs'

Recommendation: Further confirmation of Todd Phillips’ unspectacular vision as a filmmaker, War Dogs pursues an outrageous true story with the kind of attitude and conviction fans of his should expect. It’s a passable comedy made more intriguing by the facts, and another good, if loud and obnoxious, performance from Jonah Hill. Not a film you probably want to spend money on if righteous anti-war sentiment is what you seek. And I suppose that’s one more credit to the film: a lack of political lean grounds it somewhat close to neutral. Like Hill’s Efraim says, think of it not as pro- (or anti-) war, but pro-money-making.

Rated: R

Running Time: 114 mins.

Quoted: “We drive through all triangles . . . including your mom’s.” 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Starsky & Hutch (2004)

Screen Shot 2013-11-28 at 4.45.09 PM

Okay, so while I was unable to cook up a post today that would feature a certain bird that we, as Americans, are entitled to gorge ourselves on all day today, I hope that the little symbol thing on the ticket above will suffice for “theming” out this week’s throwback. . . (And while we are at it, let’s not forget the millions of Native Americans we have trampled in getting to this point. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!) After cycling through lists of quote-unquote classic Thanksgiving-related films, it became clear that this was going to be a difficult post to keep aligned with the theme of buddy-feel good comedies AND today’s holiday theme. Also, I came to realize how few films on these lists I had actually seen. There were more than several that would qualify, but unfortunately these titles are only available for DVD delivery through Netflix so they wouldn’t necessarily be here in time to review for today. While Planes, Trains & Automobiles was my film of choice for today, I think what I found instead will do just fine. It may not be one that sits right with everyone, but it qualifies for the two things I’m looking for in films of yesteryear on this month’s TBT

Today’s food for thought: Starsky & Hutch

starsky_01

Release: March 5, 2004

[DVD]

It’s no hit television show from the seventies but Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson are intent on making you believe that they can do it, too.

Annnnnd. . .to some mildly amusing degree, they can. As actors they may not replace the vintage nonchalance of the show’s Paul Michael Graser and David Soul but this contemporary match-up ekes out some pretty good laughs and even a heartfelt moment or two in this loosely-dramatized story of two cops who are first getting to know each other when they’re out busting up huge drug deals in the fictitious Bay City, California.

Much to director Todd Phillips’ credit, his film serves as a prequel of sorts to the events that occur in the four-season-long T.V. series, and as such this story is afforded a greater amount of playing room it might not have otherwise had if it were strictly trying to follow or recreate a particular arc or theme. Indeed, this does succumb to the typical unlikely-partnership formula more often than it reaches for great(er) comedy, but as far as buddy-comedies go, one can do far, far worse than this guns-n-girls “remake.”

As a ‘prequel,’ Starsky & Hutch takes us back to a time where both cops’ egos were largely unknown to one another; where the anally-retentive but street-smart David Starsky was ignorant to the particular charms and intellectual superiority of blond Kenneth ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson. Part of the fun of this film is watching the two get to know each other better. No male actor plays ‘looking annoyed’ better than Ben Stiller. And is it just me, or is that crooked nose Owen Wilson has intentionally part of his charm? Either way, the two make for a largely entertaining duo when the plot kicks it into high gear, somewhere near the middle.

Hot-headed Starsky and cool-hand Luke. . .er, Hutch have been charged with chasing down any leads that may uncover drug kingpin Reese Feldman (Vince Vaughn)’s ultimate plans for drug distribution in Bay City. He’s been able to concoct a type of cocaine that is completely undetectable. From one coke-head to another, I hope you know that this plot development is simply ludicrous, since the narcotic is virtually undetectable to begin with. This little nuance is something shiny and new that Phillips wanted to add to his story for want of not coming across as ‘lame, ‘square,’ or ‘unhip.’

Also, he thought it’d be totally groovy to give Vince Vaughn something to be upset about. When he learns that one of his drug pushers screwed up his job, he kills him and leaves his body to float up on shore (as they are out on Feldman’s yacht in the open ocean at the time). Insert Starsky and Hutch into the equation (i.e. the reason viewers should care). The two must find and track down the true source of the drug using any means possible: getting into a threesome with cheerleaders, peer-pressuring Snoop Dogg Lion into being a golf caddy, adopting completely ridiculous disguises for some freak named Big Earl (Will Ferrell)’s perverted amusement. There are some other good moments as well, but these are the events that come to define Starsky & Hutch, the movie.

As its own product, it does just well enough subsisting on broad humor and thinly-written, semi-poorly-conceived story developments to pass. A quick browse of mainstream aggregate review sites (Rotten Tomatoes, IMDb, Metacritic) indicates a significantly lower audience rating than its critical consensus, and this I feel is owed more to the fact that this is an entirely different, standalone Starsky & Hutch experience. Stiller, for once is really funny in a lead role and his chemistry with the amiable Owen Wilson is what drives the energetic little narrative. It may not “feel” like a Starsky & Hutch adventure to fans of the old show, but that doesn’t necessarily mean this film shouldn’t exist, either.

Besides, that’s the worst case scenario we’re talking about. Most should find this a perfectly entertaining film that won’t involve a great deal of brain exercises.

Stiller and Wilson have an undeniable repartee in this modern adaptation, whilst unexpected contributions are made from the likes of Snoop Dogg Lion (damn it, again!), Vaughn (who really just chews scenery and acts like an asshole), Matt Walsch (as Eddie) and of course, Amy Smart and Carmen Electra as the two cheerleaders. The obligatory cameo from the originals — Graser and Soul — puts Phillips’ comedy over the top and into “acceptable” territory.

My shameless inclusion of this photo tells you everything you need to know about what I think of the movie update of the beloved TV series

My shameless inclusion of this photo tells you everything you need to know about what I think of the movie update of the beloved TV series

3-0Recommendation: Though it’s pretty obvious the film was made with an entirely new generation in mind, Todd Phillips’ sense of humor blends well with the classic good-cop/awkward-cop routine. There may not be enough here to convert loyal viewers of the show but for anyone interested in seeing ANYthing Starsky & Hutch-related, this should satisfy the Thanksgiving palate.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 100 mins.

Quoted: “Do it.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com