Riding the coattails of “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “The Big Short,” another entry into the white-collar gangster genre has surfaced. And once again it, it features guys who apparently never made it to the end of “Scarface.”
Miles Teller (David Packouz) is the central figure, which is immediately apparent as it’s his voice guiding you through the movie. Teller is a massage therapist, who rubs down obese, rich people for pocket change. Despite his low professional prospects, mediocre apartment and tendency to lay around and smoke pot, he has somehow attracted an absurdly gorgeous girlfriend–that’s the movie’s biggest laugh. At a funeral, Teller catches up with an old friend, Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill). While Teller has been smoking his life away, Hill has been hustling, cheating and clawing his way to prosperity. When backed into a corner, he’s the kind of guy who can convince the corner that it’s backed up against him. The two friends become business partners—successful ones, until ambition unzips the zipper on the back of its neck and reveals itself to be greed.
“War Dogs” is a redundancy—a dying ripple attempting to distance itself from the initial splash of better movies. Like its predecessors, it contains narration, but for no other reason than to state the obvious. In the first act of the film, Teller is a massage therapist, and in the second-act, he’s in some Middle-Eastern country. The movie actually stops to have Teller narrate: “Not too long ago, I was a massage therapist. Now, I’m in some Middle-Eastern country.” I’m paraphrasing, but I think I’ve captured the essence of the stupidity. This mishandling of fundamental storytelling devices pervades the entire film.
I’m ready to declare Todd Philips to be the Michael Bay of comedies. His movies are hideously bright and high-contrast, infused with adolescent pleasures and a hollow center. Those sensibilities might fit with a movie called “The Hangover,” but a story like “War Dogs” requires a more deft hand — one that can recognize the implicit dark comedy and harness it. Instead, Philips turns a cautionary tale of greed into a light romp of excess. He must be one of those people who reads Kerouac’s “On the Road” and thinks it’s about having a good time with friends.
Jonah Hill has an undeniable movie star quality, despite looking nothing like your traditional movie star. Hill’s character of Efraim Diveroli is cut from the same slimy cloth as his character from “The Wolf of Wall Street,” albeit with a new set of eccentricities, but he manages to make it feel fresh. When Hill’s on-screen, the movie becomes watchable. Other times, not so much.
Brimming with superfluous title-cards, obvious music cues and narration for those not paying attention, “War Dogs” is imitation film. It resembles the real thing, but comes frozen, to be warmed up and served with a side of fries.
1.5 out of 5 stars