Friday, July 20, 2018
Things To Do

Review: Irreverent 'War Dogs' splendidly pairs Jonah Hill and Miles Teller

The American dream smells like gunpowder in War Dogs, a story too good to be made up.

Rolling Stone told it in 2011, profiling two 20-something Miami stoners turned international arms dealers, scamming the Pentagon for millions. The story was also too good to be passed up by director and co-writer Todd Phillips, an expert detailer of masculine misbehavior after Old School and the Hangover trilogy.

War Dogs is cocked with an irreverent pedigree and loaded with the genius teaming of Jonah Hill and Miles Teller as high rolling gun runners making up everything as they go. It's a splendid mismatch, physically and tempermentally, folded into a screenplay that's only occasionally as razored as it might be.

Even after two Oscar nominations, it's shocking how terrific Hill is in this movie as Efraim Diveroli, the mastermind in the loosest use of the label. Efraim is noxious, a sweaty blob of deception and greed, impulsively rude, a schlub paying back the world he feels is his, like his idol Scarface. To know Efraim must be to despise him; to watch him played by Hill is crudely divine.

Teller is a different sort of impressive as David Packouz, slightly repackaged from the Rolling Stone piece with a distracting romantic interest (Ana de Armas) to deceive. Teller, a graduate of Lecanto High in Citrus County, doesn't need such a rote subplot for sympathy. He's got a way of making a character's reluctance appealing and acceptance more complex than just saying yes. David's risky business offers Teller lots of chances to do just that.

War Dogs is a crash-and-burn course in the economics of international arms dealing during the Bush 43 administration, when vice president Dick Cheney's former employer was revealed to be the largest supplier of U.S. weapons in Iraq and surrounding conflicts. Bids were then opened to anyone, even a hustler like Efraim, trolling the Internet for cheap war items; think penny stocks, only ammo.

Efraim's cash flashing lures David from his job as a massage therapist, and they do well with Efraim's modest business model. Then the chance pops up to land a huge government contract, with the silent partnership of the world's biggest gun runner (Bradley Cooper). He's on a terrorist watch list, which should be a red flag.

War Dogs smartly follows the dirty money and deadly merchandise of an industry determining the world. Phillips peppers the procedural elements with moments of volcanic comedy, especially a midsection when the action shifts to Jordan, and Efraim's ugliest Americanism erupts: "Tell him I'll give him a hundred bucks for those shades," he tells a child translator. "Tell him in gibberish."

From there, Ephraim and David must patch up a deal going south, driving a truckload of guns into Baghdad. Not as easy as it sounds, bringing out Phillips' better instincts for staging calamity. This time, however, there's a maturity to the disruption; no frat house or bachelor parties but a serious set of loopholes that two potheads barreled through until getting caught.

War Dogs completes an unofficial movie triptych of modern American avarice, including The Wolf of Wall Street — Phillips owes much stylistically to Martin Scorsese — and The Big Short, which this screenplay doesn't match in complexity or Faustian satire. War Dogs is, however, the funniest of the three movies, hopped up like its antiheroes and down for just about anything.

Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

 
Comments
See 'Unseen Worlds' in glass in St. Pete, plus art events for kids this week

See 'Unseen Worlds' in glass in St. Pete, plus art events for kids this week

Art events for kids around Tampa Bay this week.
Updated: 3 minutes ago
Try these self-guided Tampa Bay food tours

Try these self-guided Tampa Bay food tours

Here's where to eat, and eat some more, around Tampa Bay.
Updated: 8 minutes ago
Where to get a good hot dog for National Hot Dog Day in Tampa Bay

Where to get a good hot dog for National Hot Dog Day in Tampa Bay

Who has the best hot dogs in the Tampa Bay area?
Updated: 11 minutes ago
This week's top concerts: Dave Matthews vs. Smashing Pumpkins, and more

This week's top concerts: Dave Matthews vs. Smashing Pumpkins, and more

Chicago, Rascal Flatts and more concert picks this week.
Updated: 16 minutes ago
In theaters this week: ‘Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again,’ ‘The Equalizer 2,’ silent film ‘Safety Last’

In theaters this week: ‘Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again,’ ‘The Equalizer 2,’ silent film ‘Safety Last’

In theaters this week: ‘Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again,’ ‘The Equalizer 2,’ silent film ‘Safety Last’.
Updated: 19 minutes ago
Top things to do in Tampa Bay on Sunday, July 22

Top things to do in Tampa Bay on Sunday, July 22

Our editors' picks for things to do.
Updated: 24 minutes ago
17 things to do on Saturday, July 21

17 things to do on Saturday, July 21

Our editors' picks for things to do.
Updated: 27 minutes ago
Rabid otters, flying fish, brain-eating amoebas: Here’s how Florida can kill you

Rabid otters, flying fish, brain-eating amoebas: Here’s how Florida can kill you

Many people know that Florida is one of the more dangerous places to live in terms of intense tropical weather. We’re one of the world’s most hurricane-vulnerable regions (80 indirect storm deaths in 2017), and often noted as the lightning capital of...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Top things to do in Tampa Bay on Sunday July 22

Top things to do in Tampa Bay on Sunday July 22

Safety Last!: Tampa Theatre’s Summer Classic Movie Series throws in a true classic this week with the iconic silent film Safety Last! (1923) accompanied by music performed on the Mighty Wurlitzer Theatre Organ. 3 p.m., Tampa Theatre, 711 Franklin St....
Updated: 2 hours ago
Top things to do in Tampa Bay on July 21

Top things to do in Tampa Bay on July 21

Chicago & Reo Speedwagon: Two of the most successful, legendary and critically acclaimed rock bands perform some of their greatest hits and more. 7:30 p.m., MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre, 4802 U.S. 301 N, Tampa. $29.50-$129.50. (813) 740-2446....
Updated: 2 hours ago