Film: To the dogs

Jonah got his gun, unfortunately

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1942
In 'War Dogs,' based on a true story, two young friends exploit a government initiative.

By Richard von Busack

Indeed, War Dogs is a dog. Here we have kind of a pinhead’s version of The Third Man, with Jonah Hill as a bulky, douche-y Harry Lime.

Traditionally you team up a fatty and a skinny as a way of wreaking comedy out of the body-soul divide—the body being lustful, greedy, and wrathful; the soul having second thoughts about all of that. This is ancient comedy stuff that goes back as far as Don Quixote. Among the myriad problems with this unconvincing, unfunny and often sleazy comedy from Todd Phillips (The Hangover) is that co-star Miles Teller’s David doesn’t get much of a conscience until he’s held at gunpoint.

Playing the soul to David’s soul, as it were, is his wife Iz (Ana de Armas)—the least flattering female role in a major movie studio film this year—phoning in or Skyping her worries about David’s dodgy career while brandishing a baby. We know where the real romance is: between the pair of former Hebrew school pals David and Efraim (Jonah Hill), both stoners, who get into the arms racket during the Iraq War. Diving among the small parts of defense contracts, they did minor hustles until one big and rotten score got them found out.

Phillips calls out a lot of distancing devices to try to perfume a pair of genuine weasels: black-on-white intertitles (“God Bless Dick Cheney’s America,” says one), Scorsesean slow motion and endless ’60s needle drops. Is Hill, massive chops covered with fuzz, spray-on orange as the Great Trump himself, worthy of the Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes” as theme music?

Phillips can’t seem to get Brian De Palma’s Scarface out of his mind (extreme close-up of a mound of coke) or Rain Man (two characters coming up slowly on an escalator). Despite a moderately entertaining passage about a night’s smuggling on the road between Jordan and Baghdad, Phillips keeps bending the film to give Hill’s Efraim one more pissing scene, one more scene of bullying. It’s a strange movie when Bradley Cooper, playing a larger and more dangerous rat, ends up as the moist-eyed voice of conscience.

‘War Dogs’ is in wide release, for reasons that are completely unclear to the reviewer.

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