Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, Shockya
Director: Todd Phillips
Written by: Todd Phillips, Jason Smilovic, Stephen Chin
Cast: Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Ana de Armas, Shaun Toub
Screened at: WB, NYC, 8/15/16
Opens: August 19, 2016
This is the age of entrepreneurship, when a couple of twenty-somethings can go into a garage, exploit some new technology, and sell the company for millions, even billions. Mark Zuckerberg did it, but he was no slacker. He went to Phillips Exeter Academy and then to Harvard and can address an audience in China with his fluent Mandarin. So: do you have to be bright to be an entrepreneur? Just ask Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) and David Packouz (Miles Teller), two stoners who, for all we know, barely made it out of high school. Yet they outsmart major corporations in bidding for U.S. government contacts that would make them multi-millionaires. There was ultimately some problem with their partnership arrangement, but the same was true for Zuckerberg. They also had some problems with the FBI, but what’s a sentence to house arrest or a few years’ incarceration when you make that kind of money and work at something more exciting than a 9- 5 in a cubical staring at a screen? And why give thirty or forty percent of your earnings to the federal, state and city governments when you can have the government pay you?
Among those who think this way are Efraim Diveroli and David Packouz, who get together years after their friendship in junior high school with a plan that apparently nobody else thought of. With Efraim as the leader and motivating force in a bold strike of entrepreneurship, they get the idea to go for the crumbs and not the pie. As Efraim explains, big business goes after the big government contracts to supply the U.S. armed forces with what they need to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq. Nobody challenges them. But the big boys ignore the money that could be made by looking at the small contracts hardly worth the effort for the likes of IBM and Lockheed. Using computers, the two young men track down what the government needs for the men and women fighting overseas without going into battle themselves. They see a potential contract to supply our forces with one hundred million rounds of bullets which are currently located in a warehouse in Albania. With the help of Henry (Bradley Cooper), an arms dealer who is on the terrorist list, they travel not only to Tirana but to the Triangle of Death in Iraq, transporting Beretta guns to the captain in Baghdad’s Green Zone, receiving millions in return.
What’s amazing? The story is true. Captured in print by Gay Lawson’s Rolling Stone article “Arms and the Dudes,” the two war dogs (a pejorative for people who make money without risking their lives) get off their couches and put down their bongs to score a $300 million contract from the Pentagon to arm the Afghan Army.
The script by Jason Smilovic, Stephen Chin and the director describes the adventures of these two wholly different best friends—David is a responsible guy who is licensed as a massage therapist with a sideline of selling sheets to old folks’ homes and has a pregnant girlfriend, Iz (Ana de Armas). Efraim has never pursued a legit business and agrees with David that “jerking off old men” (David doesn’t) is no way to make a living and support a girlfriend and baby.
“War Dogs” could be the subject of a documentary, one which Michael Moore could do a job with, but prospers as a comedy-drama from direction by Todd Phillips, well-known to mostly youthful movie fans for “Hangover” (three buddies at a bachelor party try to locate a missing bachelor in time for the wedding). Nor does it hurt to cast a pair of comic geniuses, guaranteeing a story that is brisk and energetic throughout. Miles Teller plays straight man, having to lie to his girlfriend about his new business, while Jonah Hill, unencumbered by family relations, performs as the devil-may-care motivational speaker, if you will. No matter to Efraim that traveling from Jordan to Baghdad, they have to pass through the Triangle of Death soon after crossing the border to Iraq: he is responsible to nobody back home.
Their adventures in Las Vegas, Jordan, Iraq and Albania are each full of thrills and humor, backstabbing and profiteering. Even the opening scene signals Efraim’s persona. Looking to score some weed from a group of pushers, he gets ripped off, threatened with a pistol, but scares the tough guys away when he produces an automatic from the trunk of his car, firing it into the air, all to the amazement of his sedate friend David.
Comic timing is masterful, established by Jeff Groth’s superb editing, Todd Philips’ direction, and Teller and Hill’s acting, the serious parts merging seamlessly into the mirthful story. Lawrence Sher photographs the enterprise in Morocco to take the place of Jordan, Romania substituting for Albania, and on location in Miami Beach.
Rated R. 115 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+