Studio: Warner Bros. (114 minutes)
Plot: Two young men win a $300 million contract from the Pentagon to arm America's allies in Afghanistan.
Cast: Miles Teller, Jonah Hill, Ana de Armas, Bradley Cooper, Kevin Pollak
Bottom Line: ***1/2
By Samantha Ofole-Prince
There are plenty of tales of greed, corruption and rags-to-riches flicks floating out there, but few have the girth of “War Dogs.”
Funny and frightening, the film grew out of the story of two stoner kids, barely into their 20s, who became multi-millionaires as international arms dealers and is exactly the kind of tale Hollywood loves. Based on a true story, it all started during the George W. Bush administration when huge no-bid contracts to supply guns and ammunition to Iraq and Afghanistan were being awarded to just conglomerates. As criticism of the perceived war- profiteering grew, the government opened the bidding on military contracts to virtually anyone, making it possible for the childhood friends to take advantage of.
Jonah Hill and Miles Teller star, respectively, in the central roles of David Packouz and Efraim Diveroli, best friends in junior high who are reunited at the funeral of a mutual friend. David’s burnt out on massaging middle-aged men for a living and is trying to sell high-thread-count sheets to nursing homes on the side (there’s a funny scene where he’s told buying high quality sheets for the elderly would be “like wrapping alligator skin in cashmere”). Efraim’s already amassed some success bidding on military business and invites David to partner up. The pair begin raking in millions of money and living the high life, but get in over their heads when they land a $300 million deal to arm the Afghan Military with $100 million-plus rounds of AK-47 ammo. The deal puts them in business with some shifty individuals and their pinnacle of success comes crashing down. The tale was chronicled in a 2011 Rolling Stone article called “Arms and the Dudes,” by Guy Lawson.
Writer-director Todd Phillips, of the “Hangover” franchise, goes to great lengths to explain every little detail of how the ammunition industry works, citing numbers of the average cost it takes to outfit every U.S. soldier engaged in combat – a $17, 500 cost and the average tax payer foots the bill.
A nifty piece of work, which is smart and snappy, “War Dogs” has wit and plays like a dark comedy, but unfolds with deathly serious conviction as it follows these two guys who managed to exploit a system and make millions in the process. There’s a huge nod to the classic film ”Scarface” and Hill as Efraim, truly entertains. He can be quite uproarious one moment, and chilling the next, adding his high-pitched laugh is guaranteed to make you chuckle a few times.
Cuban actress Ana de Arma plays David’s girlfriend, Bradley Cooper (who also co-produces) plays a notorious arms dealer. Kevin Pollak rounds off the cast as, Ralph Slutsky, a dry cleaner whose motives go beyond the financial benefits.
In directing “War Dogs,” Phillips employs a crafty and sardonic approach: lecturing, entertaining and informing his viewer on the government's lack of oversight.
The film succeeds because it wants you to leave the cinema clued in to the cost of war and cautioned about the perils of immorality and greed.
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Printed in the September 18, 2016 - October 4, 2016 edition.