War Dogs (2016)

(On Cable TV, April 2017) I had too-high hopes that War Dogs would be another strong entry in my pet geo-sardonicism subgenre—geopolitics treated with a good dose of sardonic humour as a way to make sense of an increasingly unlikely world, an updated Lord of War for the post-Iraq generation. I half-got my wish. For one thing, War Dogs is, indeed, a comedy taking on geopolitical issues: namely arms dealing and the unlikely profits coming from the unintended consequences of well-meaning government procurement policy changes. Miles Teller is the narrator and protagonist of an incredible story (partially based on real events) in which an underachieving young man ends up putting together multimillion dollar deals for the government’s war efforts. His patter, especially in the film’s first half, is interesting and damning at once. War Dogs starts out well with a first half filled with comedy, rags-to-riches incidents, and incredible war stories. It plays a bit like one of Ben Mezrich’s American-hustler books. Director Todd Philips knows how to present a film with pop and irreverent energy, and Jonah Hill does bring a degree of uncomfortable energy to the proceedings. Alas, this sugar high doesn’t last as the movie predictably settles into something far less fun in its latter half. War Dogs has to punish its villains, and those include our two protagonists. Their adventures get a great deal less fun as they turn on each other, renege on deals and get caught up in a federal investigation. There is no triumphant ending in store—at best, a soft (ish) landing. Still, War Dogs is a delight for those moment in which it does works. If the film’s not quite successful, then so be it—I’d rather see an imperfect take on procurement corruption than a more successful vapid comedy.

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