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Review: “War Dogs” (R)

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L-R: Jonah Hill and Miles Teller in “War Dogs”; Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures(NEW YORK) — As far as the movie business is concerned, we’re in the dog days of August, a time when studios tend to release films that didn’t test well but into which they poured a lot of money.  So it’s rare to get a quality film this time of year that’s both smart and funny. Enter War Dogs.

Based on the true story of two 20-something stoners from South Florida who won a multi-million-dollar Pentagon weapons contract during the Bush/Cheney years, the film is co-written and directed by Todd Phillips, best-known for the Hangover movies.  While War Dogs is a little more dramatic than those “dude-bro” comedies, that sensibility is noticeable throughout the film, much like the Michael Phelps mean-face meme is noticeable in your social media feeds.

Miles Teller plays David Packouz, a massage therapist – at least when we first meet him – whose clients are mostly older, rich, Jewish men, some of whom have ulterior motives. Enter his old junior high best friend and troublemaker, Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill). He’s a small-time arms dealer who’s taken advantage of a U.S. government that puts bids for weapons contracts on a public website, meaning anyone can access it and bid.

Tired of his current job, and faced with the news his girlfriend, Iz (Ana de Armas), is pregnant, David accepts Efraim’s offer of a job. Within two months, David makes a few hundred thousand dollars. A few months after that, he winds up running guns to the U.S. military into Iraq through what’s known as the Triangle of Death.

Hill, a two-time Oscar nominee, gives us one of his best performances here. His Efraim is the kind of con artist who could probably sell you your own mother. Teller — or as I like to call him, John Cusack, Jr. –gives us some solid laughs, but is also the heart and soul of the story, as well as its narrator.

The humor in War Dogs serves as the antidote for a true story that should actually make your blood boil. We’re told what transpires in this movie really happened. As such, this movie’s also a reminder that government, and human behavior, need to be subject to checks and balances, especially when war and money are so intimately intertwined.

Four out of five stars.

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