David Packouz (Miles Teller) is in his 20s and tired of getting pushed around: by retirement home owners who reject his fine linen get rich quick scheme and by naked massage clients that give him money in the meantime. Enter his junior high best friend Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), a budding international arms dealer. Efraim plucks David from his mundane existence, and, as they work dirty arms dealing with governments, they quickly find themselves over their heads. And…movie.
War Dogs is a dark comedy from the director of The Hangover trilogy. It is, perhaps, a tale too dark for this director’s hands. The tone is flatter than one would expect from a comedy-crime thriller crossover. The amount of thrilling and the amount of comedy does not add up to what is necessary for a narrative about two morally questionable scumbags. A glossy soundtrack helps mask this, but a tepid voiceover from Teller and an annoying put-on laugh from Hill brings the truth back to the surface.
Speaking of which, Teller and Hill otherwise do a fine job heading this feature. Hill is particularly entertaining as a brash mobster wannabe. A small role from Bradley Cooper adds to the excitement level, to the extent that there is any to be had.
War Dogs has the mindset of movies in the same vein as last year’s The Big Short. It wants to be funny and flashy while also throwing in a cautionary moral about the corrupt nature of capitalism and government. Where The Big Short rose to the level of enlightening the viewer on a crisis that may otherwise be unwieldy, War Dogs throws its commentary in as an afterthought. What results is a denouement with little topical intensity.
For what it’s worth, War Dogs is entertaining for a mid-August release, but one cannot help but think that the film was aiming for a late-November awards season dark horse release. It struggles to balance grit and humor, a tonal war that it wages from beginning to end. This said, strong acting and stylish camera work keeps the film from slipping into late-Summer obscurity.
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)