From the director of “Old School” and “The Hangover” comes a moral parable about ... well, everything and nothing. It’s about war as a business, friendship, U.S. military intervention and ambition. The only thing it’s really about, though, is director/co-writer Todd Phillips’ desire to be Martin Scorsese, which is as likely as Rob Schneider winning an Oscar.
This thing has “Scorsese” written all over it in invisible ink. It features a voiceover narration from a real life criminal a la “Goodfellas” and “Casino.” The soundtrack is littered with classic pop rock, including several used in Scorsese films. Phillips is so desperate to ape Scorsese he even casts Jonah Hill as a sociopathic arms dealer, practically the same role he had in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” only running guns instead of manipulating the stock market.
Hill brings an energy to the movie that’s both manic and slyly insidious, easily stealing all of his scenes. He plays Efraim Diveroli, a man who made a fortune in arms dealing by the time he was 20 before flaming out and being sent to prison. Miles Teller plays David Packouz, a Miami massage therapist whose childhood friendship with Efraim is the basis for a partnership in arms dealing.
Based on the true story of two guys in their 20s who made millions selling arms to the U.S. government, “War Dogs” has nothing original or interesting to say and takes a long time not saying it.
It was, at least at first, a legitimate business. Government rules forced the military to allow small contractors to bid on various arms and equipment listings. The pair simply sat at their laptops and scoured thousands of listings, placed bargain basement bids on orders such as handguns and gas masks, and sold merchandise to the military at a tidy profit. Cue half-hearted discussions about the philosophies behind profits and war before Phillips loses focus and jumps to something else.
The second half becomes mired in the scandal that brought these guys down, an illegal repackaging and sale of Chinese ammunition to the government. It sounds more exciting than it is, as these scenes have more to do with warehouses and shipping containers than bullets.
After directing all those comedies, it’s strange Phillips doesn’t know how to reach a punchline. The pair gets stoned before a critical meeting, but nothing happens. A mysterious arms kingpin (Bradley Cooper) summons David for a surprise meeting, and nothing happens.
Remember that scene in “Goodfellas” where nothing happens? Yeah, neither do I. And a year from now, no one will remember this movie.