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War Dogs Review: A True Story Told Loudly

By  · Published on August 18th, 2016

War Dogs Details Outrages Without Ever Feeling Outrageous

It’s bland despite the bullets, bombs, and bros.

Did your disinterest in the American financial system leave you feeling left out while the rest of us enjoyed the barbed excesses and sad truths of films like The Wolf of Wall Street and The Big Short? Do you like guns and ammo and Scarface posters? Did you answer yes to these questions? Including that one?

Well bust open a Budweiser and kick back in your La-Z-Boy, because Todd Phillips’ new film War Dogs is tailor-made for you.

It’s 2005, and David Packouz (Miles Teller) is a licensed massage therapist and entrepreneur. $75 an hour for massaging wealthy clients isn’t his idea of a career though, but when he sinks his entire “fortune” into a bulk order of sheets he hopes to sell to retirement homes he realizes too late that it was a bad decision. It won’t be his last.

When his best friend from high school, Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), returns to town in a flashy suit and flashier car the two reconnect. David discovers that his friend’s success comes from reselling guns online, but he has his sights set on a bigger piece of the pie thanks to new governmental rules put in place post-Halliburton that requires the Pentagon accept contract bids from smaller operations. Efraim wants to sell weapons, ammo, and other military supplies to the U.S. military – where others see a soldier he sees $17500 in gear and accessories – and he wants David to help. It goes smoothly at first, but greed, poor life choices, and Efraim’s penchant for cutting corners and ignoring laws eventually leads them into a deal with a legendary gunrunner (Bradley Cooper) who might just be on the government’s terrorist watch list.

War Dogs, a derogatory term for greedy, morality-free arms dealers, is based on a true story and recounts a handful of sadly unsurprising situations surrounding the U.S. government’s business dealings and practices. Nothing here should shock anyone who pays even the barest attention to the world around them, but Phillips and his co-writers (Stephen Chin, Jason Smilovic) take every opportunity to pause the film – quite literally – to point out just how crazy this all is.

You’d be forgiven for thinking government loopholes and shady, greedy characters had never crossed paths like this before. The frame freezes repeatedly throughout the film, often on “funny” reaction shots, as David’s narration points out yet another “unbelievable” fact or nutty plot turn. Phillips (The Hangover) is no stranger to fun, energetic tales, and sequences like the duo fist-bumping their way from Jordan to Iraq through the “triangle of death” offer some laughs, but too much of what we see here seems to rely on viewers simply feeling the vibe based on the details and casting alone. It wants to believe it’s dropping massive truth bombs through bombastic antics, but Phillips never musters the electric audacity of Martin Scorsese’s or Adam McKay’s last films.

Teller is playing what amounts to the film’s awakening conscience, but it’s an uphill battle for the actor as David is never less than an unlikable, manipulative liar. He calls out Efraim for doing the same – and to be fair Efraim is more unlikable, more manipulative, and far more of a liar – but that doesn’t lessen his own sins. He’s faced with them in the form of the stock character of a girlfriend (Ana de Armas, bringing life to a thankless role) whose patience and love for her man remain despite his constant lies.

Hill finds greater success as the greater prick, and while Efraim’s never remotely charming – despite the film telling us that he is – Hill gives him an aggressive charisma. There’s a sense he’s channeling a bit of Wolf of Wall Street’s Jordan Belfort, but his bluster and banter can’t match the obnoxiously delightful perfection of Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance.

War Dogs is watchable and manages a handful of laughs along the way, but viewers won’t walk away all that entertained or educated on the sketchy, morally compromised world of arms dealers. Maybe skip these guys and do business with Lord of War instead?

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.