WAR DOGS, with some expected fictional elements to spice things up (and perhaps make the lead characters a tad more bearable), is one of those fact-based stories that has your blood boil while it keeps you hooked by the sheer audacity of the schemers and the scale of their scams. Redeeming himself for his two crappy ‘Hangover‘ sequels, the 2016 dramedy was directed and co-written by Todd Phillips. The scoundrel saga is based on Guy Lawson’s book “Arms and the Dudes: How Three Stoners from Miami Beach Became the Most Unlikely Gunrunners in History”. *
“What do you know about war? They’ll tell you it’s about patriotism, democracy… or some shit about the other guy hating our freedom. But you wanna know what it’s really about? What do you see? A kid from Arkansas doing his patriotic duty to defend his country? I see a helmet, fire-retardant gloves, body armor and an M16. I see $17, 500. That’s what it costs to outfit one American soldier. Over two million soldiers fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. It cost the American taxpayer $4.5 billion each year just to pay the air conditioning bills for those wars. And that’s what war is really about. War is an economy. Anybody who tells you otherwise is either in on it or stupid.“
In 2005, while the Bush-Cheney junta’s fiasco in Iraq was reaping bodies and profits, 23-year-old David Packouz (Miles Teller) was eking by as a massage therapist and trying to sell bedsheets to nursing homes. Then brash (to put it mildly) 19-year-old buddy Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) turns up, smirking over his shoestring company that gets the drop on government contract bids for weaponry. In short order, after some bong hits, they team up: their under-the-radar, beneath-morality gambles rake in millions. Swagger and success eventually separate the dudes from the Big Boys. ‘Cut-throat business’ can be more than figurative.
Thankfully, since Packouz and Diveroli in particular were such swine, the film is fortunate in casting Teller and Hill, who manage the tightrope walk necessary to put up with such types for 114 minutes and actually be invested in what happens to them. Hill is fearless at being utterly unpleasant with a spark of innocent glee. Originally, Jesse Eisenberg and Shia LaBeouf were set to play the guys: their oily personas would have made it unbearable. Bradley Cooper is also on hand, in properly amoral mode. For the sake of our blood pressure, Phillips and co-writers Stephen Chin and Jason Milovic don’t just single out the two punks: they aren’t shy from damning the whole evil machine.
Filmed in Romania (subbing for Albania), Morocco (doing the same for Iraq and Jordan), Las Vegas and Miami, costing between forty and fifty million to make, it ranked 75th in the States in ’16, grossing $43,035,000. Just a tad more, $43,200,000, came in from other markets.
With Ana de Armas, Kevin Pollak, Patrick St. Esprit, Shaun Toub, Barry Livingstone (old fogsters recall him as ‘Ernie’ from My Three Sons), and JB Blanc. Nearly three dozen pop tunes decorate the soundtrack.
* With cheek to spare, the real David Packouz has a bit part, singing “Don’t Fear The Reaper”. This cost-of-caustic-business saga makes a companion piece (or sidearm) to the better Lord Of War (Nicolas Cage, 2005). Old movies about gun runners (basically just Winchester peddling for guerrillas and not looting full-scale hardware for entire frickin’ countries) usually had the “out for myself” fella changing into a wised-up freedom fighter (paging Robert Mitchum in Bandido, Alan Ladd in Santiago), but laptop-warrior cruds like those in War Dogs wouldn’t know a scruple if it riddled them with a knockoff AK-47 from Angola.