Starring: Miles Teller, Jonah Hill, Ana de Armas, Kevin Pollak, Bradley Cooper
Directed By: Todd Phillips
Plot: Based on the true story of David Packouz (Teller) a 20 something massage therapist who winds up becoming an international arms dealer after his unhinged friend (Hill) invites in in on the moneymaking scheme of a lifetime.
What Works: Todd Phillips shows his directorial skills after being stuck in the Hangover franchise forever. He shows a lot of promise, even if this is still somewhat of a comedy. It’s more of an action/comedy/drama, and because it blurs so many genres, it still feels like a huge step in the right direction for him. War Dogs works in part because of his knowledge as a director, but also because of the strong performances of Teller and Hill, who both do great work. Hill, already recognized twice with Oscar nominations, has the showier role as the slightly crazy Efraim, but Teller is the heart of the story. Teller has been turning in great performances for a few years, notably in The Spectacular Now and Whiplash, and hopefully will one day hear his name called. He’s one of my favorite “new” talents in Hollywood, and I think he adds to every film he’s been in… except perhaps Fantastic Four.
What Doesn’t Work: I know Hollywood is trying to make Ana de Armas a thing, but I don’t see it in this film. There’s nothing standoutish about her performance, and she at times seems out of her depth dramatically. A lot of very similar facial expressions. I know she’s a supporting character, but I still would have wanted more range from the actress in that role. And try as he might, Bradley Cooper is still too damn likeable to be taken seriously as a dangerous arms dealer. He’s an actor who just can’t play a terrifying bad guy, and he’s miscast here.
Final Word: I liked War Dogs more than I thought I would. I was expecting this to be a fairly average film, maybe slightly above average, and I found a film instead that I would recommend. It’s another notch in the belt for Hill and Teller, and hopefully leads to more challenging work for Phillips.
FINAL GRADE: B+