by Michael B. Hock
Miles Teller is a talented actor. I’m going to put this up there because for a large portion of this review, I’m going to be saying a lot about him. None of it good, because War Dogs is not the film that is promised by the trailers. In fact, the guy cutting the trailer should be given a special award for making War Dogs: the movie that everyone probably wanted to see. The movie everyone wanted to see was basically “The Dudebros from the Hangover Sell Guns.” What we got was… this.
War Dogs tells the true story… by the way, Hollywood, we all know that “true” means that “we made a bunch of stuff up, but it sorta happened like this,”… of Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill, also always amazing) and David Packouz (Teller). These two dudes are basically arms dealers, but they throw in a bunch of stuff to make it seem like David wasn’t that bad as he tried to rip off the government and sell weapons.
I should probably write more.
Ok, so War Dogs is the story of two best friends, Diveroli and down on his luck Packouz, who has to massage people. But real people, so instead of the hot chick, it’s mostly perverted dudes who want to try to get naked in front of him. Packouz is constantly trying to change his luck by finding bigger and bigger schemes, eventually settling on buying a bunch of fine linens that he can’t sell to old folks’ homes because they’re all going to die soon and why should they have luxury. At a friends’ funeral, he runs into his old buddy Diveroli, who is back in Florida having walked away from a bad deal with his Uncle. Naturally, Packouz thinks it would be a good idea to get involved with him, and together the two start selling weapons to the U.S. Government.
The movie tries to paint the portrait of a Packouz as a man driven to the brink… pregnant wife at home, he just needs one big score to give his family the life they truly deserve, and he certainly doesn’t want to keep rubbing guys to make it happen. The opening shot is of him being drug out of the trunk of his car and a gun aimed at his face, to make sure you know he was the victim here.The movie also goes out of its way to paint Diveroli as the bad guy, from his obsession to Scarface (he’s obsessed with Scarface. If the movie poster didn’t tell you that, the characters will every couple of minutes), to producing an automatic machine guns to scare off a few weed dealers early in the film.
The problem is that there is a compelling story deep within this, and that is the true story of just how far these guys would go to profit on war. But Todd Phillips, also known for directing the Hangover Trilogy, wanted to focus more on the people, and that means trying to find the humanity when there really wasn’t much to go off.
Take the main character trait of Diveroli (who does not come across nice in this, so the reports that he didn’t feel like talking to Jonah Hill about his role aren’t surprising) which Packouz tells us early on is “to find the person that people wanted him to be.” So later, when he betrays Packouz… is anyone surprised? Is it a compelling twist when he stabs Packouz in the back? Or is it a series of events we’re just “getting to”.
And Teller. Ah, Teller. Is there an actor that plays smarmier characters than him? Even in the mess that was the Fantastic Four, he still managed to take comics most bland scientist/superhero and give him a bit of an overconfident edge that made the character at least compelling. Bring back his version of Mr. Fantastic with a script that isn’t afraid to make it a superhero movie, and you’ve got yourself a franchise. That being said, for the character that is supposed to elicit the most sympathy, he’s mostly just a character who we’re waiting for these things to happen. He leaves his contract with Diveroli in the drawer? What’s going to happen next? How many times is his wife going to leave him. Oh, look he’s lying about being in a hotel! Hilarity!
I really only pick on Teller because he was supposed to be our sympathetic lead. Really both actors do a nice job with what we’re given. For a few brief shining moments I felt for Diveroli under the care of Jonah Hill, who approached him as at least a little bit sympathetic before we got the extra scene reminding us that oh, yeah.. he’s a douche.
Overall, a late summer movie that I’m sure was hoping to enter that rare dark horse Oscar Pick for being quirky. Unfortunately, it’s too much of a mess to really be enjoyable.