How low would you sink to make a living? David Packouz (Teller) is a massage therapist but hates his clientele and it barely makes ends meet. Soon enough, his live-in girlfriend reveals she’s pregnant. In order to keep a roof over their head, David reconnects with childhood friend Efraim Diveroli (Hill), who is in the small Department of Defense contract trade. Before long, the two of them are in control of a multi-million dollar company with their sights set on the big time.
The mere sight of these two actors gets me in the theatre. Jonah Hill has shown time and time again that he can be a great second fiddle in many genres. In War Dogs, Hill works wonders for the character that he’s presented with. Hill infuses the right amount of arrogance into Diveroli to make him a believable psychopath. Say what you want about his off-screen persona, watching Miles Teller on the big screen is a joy. He has the charisma most better looking young actors would dream of. Teller even makes this uneven character work. Packouz is supposed to be the sympathetic character of the story but with the way he treats the woman in his life, you can’t do so easily.
In fact, the way screenwriters Stephen Chin, Jason Smilovic and Todd Phillips (who also directed) treats Iz, played by Cuban-American actress Ana de Armas, is worse. She is like a stock girlfriend from a generic 1990’s movie: confined to the home, stuck with a child and constantly having to bicker with her significant other. In addition, for a movie about war and profiting from it, the movie doesn’t have any ideas about war.
That’s because Todd Phillips isn’t interested in such things. Phillips, most famous for The Hangover trilogy, only wants to show the bro-tastic scenes of excess including fast cars, cocaine and Jonah Hill getting punched in the face. Another staple of Phillips, Bradley Cooper, also shows up as a black market arms dealer, whose defining characteristic is his giant eyeglasses. The most egregious mistake Phillips makes, however, is with the many title cards that are featured throughout the movie. There’s nothing, in theory, wrong with title cards. Clerks used them to introduce us to words that one would find on a SAT exam. Inglorious Basterds used them as great transitions between each subplot that make up the entire movie. But Phillips decides that War Dogs needs title cards with quotes you will hear later in the sequence. This might be fine if they were random insignificant quotes. Unfortunately, more often than not, these quotes spoil the upcoming sequence, removing most of the suspense from the proceedings.
Sure, Hill and Teller are their usual great selves but their characters are various levels of unlikeable and underdeveloped. Combine that issue with overall poor writing and directing, War Dogs is the dude-bro version of better movies about the highs and lows of war profiteering like Lord of War or Charlie Wilson’s War.
1 out of 5