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War Dogs Reviews

Reviewed By: Ciampoli Tom

After directing a run of hugely successful raunchy comedies (including Old School and the Hangover series), Todd Phillips now takes on the story of two real-life bros who attempted to make a fortune by cheating the system. Based on a Rolling Stone article by Guy Lawson, War Dogs centers on two greenhorn arms dealers who sell weaponry and equipment to the U.S. military, and who eventually hit the jackpot when they land a 300-million-dollar contract with the government. The film is told from the perspective of David Packouz (Miles Teller), a frustrated, down-on-his-luck massage therapist who unexpectedly reconnects with a volatile former friend named Efraim Diveroli (a scenery-chomping turn from Jonah Hill). With a baby on the way and in desperate need of cash, Packouz teams with his old pal to exploit new legislation that requires America's armed forces to accept bids from smaller, independent contractors. Their quest for bigger money leads the two men to do business with a highly successful, yet dangerously shady, weapons kingpin (Bradley Cooper, making the most of his too-brief screen time).Anyone who's ever seen a movie about career criminals knows that the suspense revolves around when, not if, the hammer will finally drop. Phillips (who also co-wrote the script with Stephen Chin and Jason Smilovic) never lets us forget that sense of urgency, while simultaneously squeezing as much exhilaration as possible out of the pair's wild ride. The plot is quick but not rushed, and a lot of that has to do with the "show, don't tell" manner in which it is presented. Although the dialogue mentions several times that Packouz and Diveroli are fans of Scarface, War Dogs feels closer in spirit to some of Martin Scorsese's films; that similarity is evident in the voice-overs from Packouz, a prototypical desperate character who is slowly seduced to the dark side, as well as the freeze-frames that occasionally accompany his narration. The movie particularly owes a debt to Scorsese's 2013 The Wolf of Wall Street, which also features a group of gleefully rebellious, morally depraved protagonists.And just as in The Wolf of Wall Street, Hill skillfully mines dark humor from an immature and reckless loose cannon. The movie does itself no favors by revealing the full extent of Diveroli's sociopathic nature early on, a narrative choice that renders the character's actions during the climax less of a surprise. However, Hill still manages to carry the film by committing to the role's goofy idiosyncrasies, turning comedic quirks into signs of a disaffected, toxic personality. Teller is capable of terrific performances (as seen in his turn opposite J.K. Simmons in Whiplash), but he seems to be holding back here when sharing the screen with Hill, and his scenes at home with his wife (Ana de Armas) and child don't have the emotional heft they should.War Dogs also possesses a soundtrack full of baby-boomer rock favorites, another Scorsese trademark (especially in Goodfellas and The Departed). Unfortunately, these music picks are too on-the-nose to really work, and it's disappointing that they crowd out composer Cliff Martinez's score. Still, the film ultimately succeeds because it deftly blends together the outrageousness of a wild comedy with the tension of a gangster flick, creating something that will likely appeal to fans of both Casino and Superbad. Many movies try to be brash and outlandish, but few achieve that aim with the sharpness and authenticity of War Dogs. Audiences know by now that there's a lot more to Hill's talents than just sophomoric laughs, and director Todd Phillips makes a similar case for expanding his own range here.