If you were hoping War Dogs and its high-energy bro vibe would zap some life back into what’s been a rather dull summer movie season, I have bad news for you.
Judging from the movie’s initial trailer, you’d assume this war comedy/crime drama hybrid would be among the likes of The Wolf of Wall Street or The Big Short with clever, fast-paced sequences and biting delivery about greed, power, and corruption. While War Dogs does start off that way, it fizzles almost immediately after its first major turning point and never fully regains steam. It’s unfortunate, too, because the story is interesting.
It’s based on the true story of David Packouz (played by Miles Teller) and Efraim Diveroli (played by Jonah Hill), two young guys who landed a major defense contract during the Iraq War and were later indicted for selling defective Chinese ammunition to the U.S. government.
Of course, whenever you hear “based on a true story,” be mindful that there’s fictionalization going on in the background to make the movie more entertaining. But what’s hilarious to me about that is writers Stephen Chin, Todd Phillips (also War Dogs‘ director), and Jason Smilovic fictionalized some aspects of this story—like making Packouz and Diveroli better businessmen than they really were—yet their fictionalization didn’t make the movie more entertaining. Which, you know, is kind of the point.
Most of this movie’s problems stem from how boring it is. And it shouldn’t be because, hey, international arms dealing and shady government shit are intriguing as hell! It just fell apart after the first act. After Packouz and Diveroli make their thrilling gun-run from Jordan to Iraq—which features a fist-pumping “Hooah!” deus ex machina moment from the U.S. Army set to the on-the-nose “Fortunate Son”—everything goes downhill. There were no more car chases, no explosions, no fun.
The plot drags, and even the tension between Packouz and Diveroli isn’t that interesting because you knew all along how the story was going to pan out. Why’s that? Because their characters stay the same from beginning to end. There’s literally no growth for them whatsoever that would drive them to change and make the tension interesting. Packouz was always the “good guy” (or, at least, the closest thing to a good guy in this movie), and Diveroli was always the paranoid sociopath. That’s the entirety of their character development. *yawn*
Even Todd Phillips’ direction is hit-or-miss (Yet again, the trailer made it look so much sexier). Some of the shots are great. Like during the gun-run when Packouz sees trucks in the mirror as the camera focuses on “Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear.” But then there’s the lazy narration. When Packouz and Diveroli check out old Albanian ammunition, wondering if it still works, we cut to a new scene of Diveroli testing out the ammunition by joyfully unloading rounds. Clearly, we know it works because Diveroli is showing us it works. But Packouz gives us a voiceover that says “It worked” (or something of that nature). YEAH. WE GOT IT. THANKS.
What will be this movie’s saving grace is Jonah Hill as Efraim Diveroli. He carries this entire movie on the shoulders of his bug-eyed, cocaine-snorting, overly-tanned schmuck (Meanwhile, Miles Teller, real-life schmuck, is the bland nice guy). If you’re going to see this movie, see it for Jonah Hill. He’s the only source of comedy in a movie that’s really not a comedy. And don’t make a fuss about Bradley Cooper showing up. It’s just a glorified cameo with funny costuming. So maybe save this one until it comes available for rent because this isn’t a movie that you need to pay to see in the theater.
Fun Fact: Did you know Jesse Eisenberg and Shia LaBeouf were originally up for these roles?
War Dogs: C
Listen to my review of War Dogs on “Pat & JT in the Morning” here (at 45:03).