Review: War Dogs (2016)

Directed by: Todd Phillips | 114 minutes | comedy, drama, war | Actors: Miles Teller, Jonah Hill, Ana de Armas, Bradley Cooper, Kevin Pollak, Dan Bilzerian, Julian Sergi, Ali Chen, Ashley Spillers, Shaun Toub

The (American) movie poster of “War Dogs” resembles the iconic poster of Brian de Palma’s “Scarface” (1983). Where in the original a dangerous-looking Al Pacino is depicted, here it is the ever-wimpy Jonah Hill who, in exactly the same position, faces the world. Standing next to him, contrasting in the dark, is Miles Teller. His gaze is not very intelligent either. It suggests that “War Dogs” is a parody of the aforementioned crime film. Still, “War Dogs” is remarkably serious, also given the announcement at the beginning of the film that “War Dogs” is based on a true story.

That story is unlikely enough to warrant a film adaptation. The two actors on the movie poster play the grumpy stoners Efraim Diveroli (Hill) and David Packouz (Teller), who are growing from small, legal arms dealers into a major player on the world stage. A million dollar deal with the US military brings them fame and wealth. What the army does not know, however, is that the two twenties have tampered with their goods. Things then get completely out of hand.

“War Dogs” mainly looks for it in a representation of the events. The characters are nothing more than plot pawns. For example, the way Packouz is dragged into the arms trade is not a paragon of character-driven plot development. His business in retirement home bedding is not progressing, his girlfriend has just gotten pregnant and just then he reconnects with his childhood friend Diveroli, who asks him for help in his arms trade. The choice for money is easily made for the naive Packouz. Ethical questions surrounding the arms race are not asked (also in the remainder of the film).

That makes their adventures little personal. Packouz’s informative voice-over does not bring his character much closer. It does not benefit the involvement. Diveroli’s character is a lot more interesting at first, because he’s driven by a fine form of madness. Jonah Hill is also versatile enough to grow in his role. But even there the film never really goes into depth. “War Dogs” lingers in a detached one-sidedness.

That is a shame, because visually the film is not bad. Director Todd Philips (“The Hangover” trilogy) creates a delightful, yet somewhat conventional atmosphere. The acting is also fine. Although the dialogues do not make it easy for the actors because of the many trodden and unspontaneous one-liners, they play a convincing role. Above all, “War Dogs” provides a valuable insight into the absurd global weapon exchange, in which not only pistols, but also tanks such as football pictures go from hand to hand. It just could have been a bit more personal.

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