I like to picture Jared Leto and Jonah Hill sitting in a dark hookah bar, one-upping each other with weird, deranged laughs. Jared Leto was playing the Joker but even so, I think Jonah Hill won.
In War Dogs, Jonah Hill plays Efraim, a young 20-something high school drop out who casually becomes a multi-million-dollar arms dealer. No big deal. He brings grateful high school bud David in on the deal and soon the two of them are rolling around naked on crisp 100 dollar bills (I assume: this wasn’t in the movie, it just seems intuitive).
Do they get in over their heads? You betcha. As soon as they meet Shady Henry (They don’t call him that to his face. Or call him that ever, come to think of it) (You can tell Bradley Cooper’s shady because of the beard. And the shades) it all goes to pot. But they’re such knuckleheads they actually pound fists over surviving The Triangle Of Death just by blind luck.
Todd Phillips, director of The Hangover trilogy, is driving the bus. The first thing you’ll notice is that this movie isn’t nearly as funny as you’d expect from him. And it’s not even trying to be. Sure there are laughs (Matt felt that lots were misplaced) but it’s a pretty muddy, ethically gray situation and pretty soon we’re sweating at least half as much as Hill (he sweats A LOT). But you have to hand it to the sly dog – that Jonah Hill is getting mighty good at creating characters we love to hate. He’s a Scarface-quoting, two-faced, super-slick (nearly as slick as his hair) dude who isn’t willing to sell his soul for money because that’s a deal done long ago – he is, however, willing to sell yours. Willing to sell his “best friend’s”. Pretty crafty. Miles Teller as David is marginally more likeable but goddammit neither of them are displaying one iota of charisma (Matt described Bradley Cooper as “wooden” so I guess that’s three of a kind).
Phillips divides the work, based on a true story, by the way – did I forget to mention that? True story all the way. Worrying. Very worryingly. God bless Dick Cheney’s America as Efraim might say. These two chuckleheads were actually granted an American military contract worth tens of millions of dollars. Your actual tax dollars lined their greasy pockets. But as I was saying, Phillips divides the film into chapters, which is kind of a neat trick, except he forgets to have a point of view. So this movie, which should have a lot to say, actually says nothing. Take a fucking stance! Two uneducated, inexperienced kids, got their grubby hands on a) crazy amounts of money and b) crazy amounts of weapons and the United States government didn’t just let it happen, it made it happen. War is about money. We all know this, rationally, no matter George W.’s stated reason. It’s about economy. But it’s still painful that there’s no context. There are no good guys, no bad guys, no victims, no soldiers, no dead or dying or shot or bleeding. There’s just greedy little fucks making bank.
And here’s the other problem: with Efraim being a soulless sociopath and David being hapless and bland, you don’t really care about either of them. Even David’s narration starts to sound a little impatient. It’s cynical as fuck but it’s also just kind of dead. And maybe that’s why even the comedy falls flat: this movie doesn’t feel like a living thing. There’s no bite, no moral compass. It’s entertaining and occasionally offers up some galling guffaws. Just don’t expect it to own its own horribleness. War Dogs is just as careless as its characters.