If you’ve liked any of Todd Phillips’ films like Road Trip, Eurotrip and The Hangover, you might enjoy the silly thrills of War Dogs.
You can even conclude that this is the smartest film he has made, though that’s not saying much. The filmmaker excels in situations where people are stuck in places where they don’t belong, and War Dogs offers plenty of entertaining avenues around that hook.
Loosely based on a Rolling Stone article about two Americans who ran a gun ring in Afghanistan, the film follows the oddball journey of Efraim (Jonah Hill) and David (Miles Teller) who find themselves in such a situation.
David is originally a massage therapist struggling to make ends meet, and when his girlfriend (Ana de Armas) gets pregnant he’s forced to find a ‘real’ job. Efraim enters his life and tells him about a shady practice by the US government, which buys military equipment from third parties in Afghanistan to supply to its troops.
Clearly seduced and also surprised that no one else has discovered this, both David and Efraim proceed head on into a business arrangement as middle men in the arms trade with the prospect of some seriously huge money.
It’s surely the most unique plot in Phillips’ filmography and until we discover how far the rabbit hole goes the film is pretty entertaining. You get the usual frat boy humor and the expected ‘shocked face’ comedy which somehow works mainly due to Hill’s consistent performance. The highlight of the film is one hilarious encounter with a dirty arms and ammunition supplier (played by Bradley Cooper).
The bromance between Hill and Teller runs on the highest possible perimeter for more giggles, and surprisingly it’s mostly rendered in dark humor rather than in the clumsy vein of The Hangover films.
The downside of the premise is that the film never really achieves the potential it sets to achieve. Once Efraim and David begin making money the film kind of goes into a zone which feels like the love child of The Wolf of Wall Street and Lord of War. That combination should ideally lead to a really zany out of the box filmmaking but the final product isn’t as crazy as you want it to be.
There are montages of excess and indulgence but no real insight into how stupid the government is that it can be fooled by these two idiots. There is also very little explanation on why David begins to trust Efraim despite the fact that he enters the film as a very obviously shady personality whom you should never logically trust.
But it’s the little details that make you forgive the film for its contrivances. Efraim keeps a poster of Scarface and models his office after the drug den shown in the film. He also starts doing coke to pay respect to his hero Tony Montana. The film is also ultimately a not so subtle diatribe on where America is headed towards, and even though you wish it were a more incisive cut into the topic that a giant gnarly bite, it’s a fairly entertaining watch.