Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)
Directed by: Todd Phillips
Starring: Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Ana de Armas, Bradley Cooper, Kevin Pollak
War Dogs is a movie about a dude obsessed with Scarface, directed by a dude obsessed with Goodfellas, Phillips taking the Scorsese mob movie template and swapping out Guido gangsters for Yiddish yobbos.
Until close to its release, Todd Phillips' latest movie had been going under the name of Arms and the Dudes. In hindsight that's a far more apt title, as the protagonists of the movie now known as War Dogs are the very definition of 'dudes'. Following on from Michael Bay's Pain & Gain and Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street, this is the latest in a burgeoning sub-genre based on true stories of young male douchebags chasing the American dream.
The douchebags in question here are Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) and David Packouz (Miles Teller), two young Florida men who, for a few years in the '00s, became millionaires through an arms dealing business that paid scant attention to the small print of US law.
When we meet David first, he's eking out a living as a masseuse, doing his best to avoid the solicitations of his older male clientele (he's a masseuse, but he's "no homo", you see). At the funeral of a school friend he's reunited with former classmate Efraim, a Tony Montana disciple who introduces him to his then relatively low key arms dealing scheme. When Efraim takes David under his bingo wings, the two form an effective partnership, first landing a deal to supply the Iraqi police with Beretta pistols, which forces them to run the guns through that country's notorious 'Triangle of Death', before later hitting the real big boys' league with a murky contract to arm the Afghanistan army with AK-47s.
War Dogs is a movie about a dude obsessed with Scarface, directed by a dude obsessed with Goodfellas, Phillips taking the Scorsese mob movie template and swapping out Guido gangsters for Yiddish yobbos. Before the credits have rolled we're greeted with a dramatic flash forward, the screen freeze framing as Teller's voice-over introduces us to the film's world. There's nary a scene that isn't accompanied by a predictable needle drop, and exhausted tracks like 'Fortunate Son', 'Jump Around' and 'Sweet Emotion' pop up, as though Hollywood collectively ordered a 'Greatest Hits of Post-90s Male-Oriented Cinema' from a late night infomercial.
Most of War Dogs' scenes could be swapped out with sequences from Pain & Gain, Blow, Lord of War, or any other tale of Americans finding themselves out of their depth in the criminal underworld. There's the obligatory scene where our heroes undertake an ill-timed drug trip, a fight in a strip club, and that ultimate cliché of the angry wife (Ana de Armas) taking off to her mother's with the kids in tow. Teller and Hill are playing thinly veiled Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci substitutes, albeit without the violent tendencies, but War Dogs isn't just a bloodless Goodfellas, it's also a soulless imitation.
War Dogs is in cinemas August 26th.