Wednesday, August 31, 2016

War Dogs

3.5/4

Starring: Miles Teller, Jonah Hill, Ana de Armas, Kevin Pollack, Jonah Hill

Rated R for Language Throughout, Drug Use and Sexual References

"War Dogs" is about two guys who stumbled into the American dream: luxury, drugs, and lots of money.  That there business is arms dealing makes no difference to them.  They see a business opportunity and milk it for all its worth.  But for every rise, there is certain to be a fall.

David Packouz (Teller) is, in his own words, "lost."  He dropped out of college after one semester, doesn't speak to his parents, and is working as a massage therapist.  His girlfriend Iz (de Armas) is supporting him in his new endeavor, selling Egyptian cotton sheets to retirement homes, but it's not going well.  Then at a funeral for a friend, he sees his best friend growing up, Ephraim Diveroli (Hill).  Ephraim is selling weapons and ammo to the U.S. military, and offers David a position to help.  With reservations, he agrees (especially since Iz is pregnant and he can't make ends meet as a massage therapist).  By going after small, relatively inexpensive deals rather than big moneymakers, the two rack up a lot of dough.  Then David finds the score of a lifetime: a deal that will net them millions.  The question is, can two enterprising kids pull it off?

Despite being directed by Todd Phillips, best known for making "The Hangover" trilogy, this isn't a comedy.  To be sure, there are amusing moments here and there and even a laugh or two, but those going in expecting a laugh riot will be a bit confused.  This is primarily a drama, but it's at least a fascinating one.  Phillips leads us every step of the way, from small beginnings to how they pull off what is to be known as "The Afghan Deal," which brought their high life falling to the ground.  The technical bits, such as how they got started, are a little shortchanged, but for the most part it's well-told.

Although Miles Teller and Jonah Hill are known primarily for their comic work, both do excellent jobs in dramatic roles.  Both are underrated talents, and have little trouble playing the old adage: average guys lured by big money but defeated by greed, hubris and betrayal.  What makes them different than your usual protagonists in this type of movie is that they remain average guys.  Sure, they're good at what they do and spend the money they make, but they never really change.  They're still suburban kids from Miami, only they're playing for big scores.

"War Dogs" isn't any kind of a masterpiece.  Nor is it an "important" film.  At some point it could have been made in the hopes of scoring an Oscar nomination or two, but it's not going to happen.  That doesn't change the fact that this is a fascinating, if imperfect, little movie.

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