The Curse of the Lying Trailer Strikes Again.
If you’ve seen any ads for War Dogs prior to Thursday, you’ve seen ads that depict a funny war/hustler comedy. And, just like the trailers for Whiskey Tango Foxtrot before it, those trailers lie like wet rugs.
Apparently early screening reactions have reached the studio’s ears and they’ve altered the trailers for Thursday to depict more what this movie is – a drama about real life hustlers who become arms dealers and get in way over their heads and then some while scamming the U.S. government. Yes, there are some funny scenes (all shown in the trailers that were out prior to Thursday), but gallows humor exists in dramas. A comedy this ain’t.
War Dogs is based on the Rolling Stone article “Arms and the Dudes” and stars Miles Teller as David Packouz and Jonah Hill as Efraim Diveroli. They lead an excellent cast, but don’t plan to get to know anyone other than Packouz and Diveroli well. Most of the supporting characters, including Packouz’s girlfriend/wife, Iz (who doesn’t rate a last name in the credits, or even a full first name), are pretty two-dimensional, though all the actors do their best with what they’ve got. But this is, essentially, a two-man show.
Packouz is struggling to make money when his childhood friend, Diveroli, returns to Miami from Los Angeles and starts sharing how he’s learned the arms trade business. One thing leads to another and Packouz and Diveroli become partners and, for the most part, legal small business arms dealers, aka War Dogs.
While the ad campaign for this film seems to have no idea what it should be about, the movie itself isn’t confused. While we start with a very dark scene (which shares immediately that this movie is not a comedy) and then do a flashback that will be 75% of the movie, you’re never confused about what’s going on in this drama. There’s a lot of tense action, and a lot of drug usage (mostly by Diveroli), lots of personal drama – clearly there in part to spell out the rise and fall of Packouz’s American Dream – as well as a very subdued almost-cameo-level supporting turn from Bradley Cooper, who brings an almost banal normalcy to a very terrifying character.
Diveroli is someone who always becomes what the person he’s dealing with wants to see – he’s a chameleon, a con artist, a liar, and a thief. And yet, he’s definitely charismatic and that’s his true ability. Packouz, who narrates the movie, falls for all of Diveroli’s crap for far too long, but ultimately gets wise. However, not before he’s rich, and then almost killed, and not in time to avoid major issues like getting caught breaking a whole lot of laws.
If there’s any moral to this story, it’s that you should never screw the little guys. Nor should you try to screw the scary guys. And Diveroli proves that greed is not good. So, I guess, lots of morals and quite a bit of “don’t try this at home”.
There’s a lot of dependence upon Scarface, too, far more than this movie can handle. There’s the iconic picture of Al Pacino with the big gun hanging on Diveroli’s wall, the War Dogs movie poster is an homage to Scarface’s movie poster, and so on. However, no one on screen is up to Al Pacino’s acting level and the story is far less visceral and tragic than Scarface – and it doesn’t have a prayer of being as iconic and long-lasting, either. Basically, the Scarface nods feel a lot like Diveroli’s motto – if they tell you something is true enough, what you want to hear enough, maybe you’ll believe it. But, as with the comedy thing, Scarface this ain’t.
War Dogs in reality was a far better movie than I was expecting it to be based on what I’d seen in the trailers. It’s not funny, but it is entertaining and a solidly done movie. It’s not the best movie you’re going to see this or any other year (and it’s definitely not even in the running for the funniest), and it’s not up to the level of The Infiltrator for acting, tenseness, danger, or thrills, but if you’re actually interested in how two twenty-something potheads could managed to become successful, legal arms dealers, this movie is definitely worth your time.
Rating: 3 Stars