Cinematic Releases: War Dogs (2016) - Reviewed

With the lackluster summer movie season winding down to a close, studios during mid-August will tend to release at least one last comedy for audiences to feast on. In the past films like Tropic Thunder and Superbad have thrived in this period, bringing in lots of laughs and lots of money. Warner Brother hopes that this summer is no exception to that rule with their new film from the director of the Hangover, War Dogs.  As a film, this is a bit of a departure from what we have come to expect from director Todd Phillips. This is not a straight comedy like The Hangover or Old School. This film is what I imagine would happen if The Wolf of Wall Street, The Big Short, and Lords of War all had a baby together.

Don’t get me wrong, this film is frequently hilarious and there are several laughs out loud moments throughout it.  It has those elements but there is more to it. As I was watching it, it reminded me of fellow comedic director Adam McKay’s The Big Short. Like The Big Short, War Dogs is very funny at points but also has a serious message and a point to get across done in creative and darkly comedic ways.  It’s great to see comedic directors expand not only their filmography but also the type of material they cover.  I wish that the film were as great as the message. War Dogs is a fine film but it’s frustratingly not as good as it could be.

We just came for the coffee and the hookers.

Acting wise, Jonah Hill steals the show. He shines as Efraim, a young man who is willing to do whatever it takes to make money. His character in this film is very similar to the character he played in Wolf of Wall Street. He is gloriously despicable and makes for a compelling watch.  Miles Teller is fine in the film but isn’t given much to work with, as his character is not as out there as Jonah Hill. He does a good job of playing this character but his performance in this doesn’t have the same drive or humanity that his performances in Whiplash and The Spectacular Now showed. The supporting cast also does a good job of keeping the laughs and drama coming.

War Dogs is solid but it is a bit derivative for those who like Scorsese or the other films I mentioned earlier. Visually, the film has some interesting shots but doesn’t have a lot of visually variety. It looks like many of the type of comedies that come out today. I imagine that there are some cool visuals that could have been used but it seems like it is more focused on the comedic elements. It also uses a lot of elements from the Scorsese playbook to varying effects. There is a little too much voice over usage in this film. It seems like it was tacked on to explain things that the film does a fine job of explaining. The soundtrack in this film is mostly good, although there are points where the music choice is a bit on the nose.  

That lap band surgery surely didn't work. 

Overall though, War Dogs pleasantly surprised me. It is probably the best film Todd Philips has made since the original Hangover. That sounds like faint praise but I did enjoy this film quite a bit. I think this is a start for something new for Todd Phillips and I would like to see him step out of his comfort zone more. With some more polish and some more interesting choices, I think it could really be a great film. As it is now, War Dogs is just a good comedy that offers a lot of fun moments but won’t have the impact that the film’s it’s replicating have had.

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 -Liam S. O'Connor