ReelBob: ‘War Dogs’

By Bob Bloom

“War Dogs” could have been a skewed examination of fulfilling the American dream, or a satire about inept oversight and corruption.

The story, directed by “The Hangover’s” Todd Phillips, is based on a true story about two young men who became arms dealers during the Iraq War and made millions.

“War Dogs” is ordinary and bland; it lacks tension and insight. The absurdist edge needed to convey how an inexperienced pair of 20-somethings was able to win Pentagon contracts for millions of dollars to sell weapons and equipment to the military is totally missing.

Jonah Hill and Miles Teller are talented actors who, either because of a weak script or Phillips’ direction, could not add any quirks or textures to their characters. Nor can they engage or connect with the audience.

Hill, as Efraim Diveroli, is the more colorful of the duo, but his personality is limited to a high-pitched laugh and a sullen expression when he believes he’s been slighted or insulted.

Teller is David Packouz, who seems to sleepwalk through life. He has failed at a half-dozen jobs and is working as a masseuse, when he teams up with Diveroli, who supposedly was his best friend in junior-high school.

Teller portrays Packouz as a rather passive individual who more often than not follows Diveroli’s various schemes to win Pentagon bids and make big money.

“War Dogs” requires more bite and anger, if not at its protagonists then over the circumstances that allowed them to bilk the system out of millions and millions of dollars.

The only time the movie shows any life is when Diveroli and Packouz are forced to smuggle a consignment of guns into Iraq from Jordan to avoid losing a big contract.

On the road to Baghdad, they are attacked by a group of insurgents whom they must outrun to survive. It is the only moment in the movie in which you feel an adrenaline rush.

A subplot focusing on Packouz and his girlfriend, Iz (Ana de Armas), feels contrived, unbelievable and stereotypical.

Even after they have a daughter, their relationship seems more like a writer’s invention than a real arrangement.

“War Dogs” is a missed opportunity to say something critical or otherwise about the tragedy, cost and waste of the Iraq War.

Packouz, whose voice-over narration pops up throughout the film, cynically explains during the opening that war is not about battles, glory or even patriotism; it’s about economy and money.

If only the film had kept that thought — and tone — throughout, it would have been a more embraceable and forceful project.

Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and Rottentomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at bobbloomjc@gmail.com or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom.

WAR DOGS
1½ stars out of 4
(R), language drug use, sexual references

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