War Dogs

Directed By: Todd Phillips

Starring: Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Ana de Armas, J. B. Blanc, Bradley Cooper, Barry Livingston, and Kevin Pollak

I have been in an odd mood as a moviegoer over the last few weeks.  I think the disappointing end to the summer movie season has left me in a rather sour disposition about the latest offerings at the box office.  I genuinely was not looking forward to War Dogs despite the fact that it's starring two of the premier talents of the last several years.  Yes, Todd Phillips hasn't had a great run since possibly the first Hangover movie some seven years ago, but the headliners' work speaks for itself.  Jonah Hill is the comedic actor who can oscillate from 21 Jump Street to Wolf of Wall Street.  Miles Teller is the underrated actor who has given us darling indies Whiplash and The Spectacular Now.  With my expectations fairly low, I was pleasantly surprised by this weekend's War Dogs

David Packouz (Teller) is not exactly living the good life with his girlfriend Iz (Ana de Armas) in his hometown of Miami.  Financial success eludes David as money is a scarcity in his world.  Massaging wealthy older men certainly isn't something that necessarily lends itself to financial security.  His venture to sell fancy sheets to the elderly isn't going to cut it either.  To make matters worse, Iz is now expecting.  Things look up for David when he runs into his childhood best friend Efraim Diveroli (Hill) at the funeral of a mutual friend.  Having just moved back to Miami, Efraim is doing quite well for himself.  He's learned of the new rules around government contracting thanks to Halliburton's unrivaled success in the early days of the Iraq War and is getting in on the action by selling arms to the military.  Efraim wants to help his friend David get some of this action too so that he can make a better life for his family.  He hires his dear old friend.  The rest is history.

Todd Phillips apparently has a love affair with Brian de Palma's Scarface.  That's for sure given just how many references there are to the 1983 movie.  Set in Miami, "The world is yours" is a frequently used tagline throughout the movie.  Jonah Hill's performance as a loose cannon would pay homage to Al Pacino if his character had a little more spine and he adopted a poor Cuban accent.  It's really quite fitting when you think about it.  War Dogs is in essence a crime movie.  While it's not the traditional movie about a mob, the structure Phillips employs here is very much akin to that of movies in this genre.  We've got the beginnings, rise, and fall of an empire.  We've got a wealth of explicit four letter words.  Most importantly, we've got crime.  If War Dogs walks and talks like a crime movie, it must be one.

The performances from the cast are strong but could be stronger.  For his part as David Packouz, Miles Teller gives us the serious introspective guy who is just trying to do a little extra to survive and provide for his family.  This is the type of role where Teller thrives, not more flamboyant ones.  He does exactly that in War Dogs.  That being said, it does feel a bit derivative of better performances from him in the past.  For his part as Efraim Diveroli, Jonah Hill serves up one crazy dude.  He's proven over the years that he has a pretty wide range, so this should come as no surprise.  Pathologically lying, never paying a dime for anything, and talking trash about everything, Hill plays up the darker qualities of his character quite a bit in a rather spontaneous performance.  The downside of this is that he risks making his performance feel a bit cartoonish at times.  To a degree, this can take away from the tough antagonistic persona he's trying to create on screen.

War Dogs
was a game of expectations for me, but it is wholly entertaining.  There may be a few too many references to Scarface, but I can live with that.  This Todd Phillips war dramedy gets a strong 0.06% rating.  Have a few rounds of beer with this one.  The world, not just crumbs, is yours.