From Director Todd Phillips comes War Dogs, a film based on a true story about two twenty-somethings that scored a multi-million dollar weapons contract and the bizarre chain of events that surrounded their business. In looking at Phillips’ previous films, is War Dogs more like The Hangover or The Hangover III?
It is the mid-2000s and David Packouz (Miles Teller) is a college dropout currently eking out a living as a massage therapist. He has no prospects and little ambition, but he still manages to have a ridiculously hot girlfriend, Iz (Ana de Armas). He reconnects with his best friend from middle school, Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), and the two of them go into business together as weapons dealers. After some success, they manage to land a massive government contract, but their relative inexperience leads them to work with less than savory individuals such as Henry Girard (Bradley Cooper), a weapons wholesaler who is on a U.S. Government watch list. However, the biggest obstacle to their success may be their own greed and mistrust.
While the story at the heart of War Dogs is rather incredible, it is also very funny to watch these two inept idiots try to make it in the arms business. There are, obviously, some serious moments as well—this is a movie about war profiteering, after all—and those play well to a degree, but not nearly as well as the comedic elements. This is why I mentioned two of Phillips’ Hangover films at the start. The first film was a comedic romp, while the third film was a dark, barely funny mess. War Dogs is kind of in the middle. Based on the Rolling Stone article, “Arms and the Dudes,” the film is clearly aping Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street in its execution. Teller narrates the film and he tells the audience just what a bad boy he has been. The only difference is that Packouz, as he is portrayed in the film, is not a freewheeling philanderer like Jordan Belfort. But the whole film really feels like it is trying to replicate the success of Scorsese’s far superior film. That doesn’t make this film bad, it just feels a little bit like a pastiche. Also, while the theme of the film—of war becoming its own economy—is an important one, this isn’t a new idea. President Eisenhower warned of the “military industrial complex” in his farewell address—a very famous speech that War Dogs doesn’t even acknowledge—and in the Metal Gear Solid video games, the idea of the “war economy” is covered in great depth. War Dogs, though, presents the concept as if it is the first time this idea has ever been floated. That may stem from the characters’ inexperience, but it just came off as uninformed. That being said, I still enjoyed the film for the most part.
The performances are pretty good here. Teller is good as usual, but I never got the feeling that he was really in love with De Armas. I don’t know if they just didn’t have chemistry or that I didn’t believe that aspect of his performance. There is a moment where Iz tells Packouz that he needs to be honest with her or she’s leaving him and Teller’s protestations are less than impassioned. Hill is very good as the slimy Diveroli, though I will admit that his distinctive laugh got a little old after a while. I also really liked Cooper in his supporting role and wish that he had been in more scenes.
Overall, War Dogs is a funny film that has been done better in the past, but that makes it no less entertaining. With two solid lead performances from Jonah Hill and Miles Teller, it’s definitely worth a watch, but not necessarily at the theater.