War Dogs is the new Todd Phillips film starring Jonah Hill and Miles Teller, telling the story of two 20-something men scoring a large contract with the U.S Military to arm America’s allies in Afghanistan. Oh, one more thing, this actually happened! Despite starring two massive stars whose combined filmography I generally enjoy (Whiplash being one of my favorite films in the last five years), I had almost no enthusiasm or desire to see this. My biggest reason, and get those torches and pitchforks ready, Todd Phillips directed The Hangover – a movie I despise. I had no faith in him taking on this type of film, since most of his movies are overly vulgar, shock value comedies. I still went in hoping for the best, and I was pleasantly surprise.
Hill and Teller have an undeniable chemistry with each other that feels so genuine; I would have thought these two went back to grade school. They were able to hit dramatic queues with ease, and then transition into a joke with perfect timing. As I said, this is based on a true story. How much of this movie is historically accurate is beyond me. How accurate the figures Teller narrates to the audience are, I don’t know. This is Hollywood; they are interested in making money, not factual movies. If these events are true, then the “Triangle of Death” scene is really impressive.
As I was sitting quietly, laughing at the appropriate times and eating my red licorice (the good ones, not those other ones), I notice something. I have seen this movie before. Not that this story has been told, but the style of the film. I saw this movie last year with Best Picture nominee The Big Short. Everything from the main character narrating, to the breakdown of the business and numbers, hell, both movies even have a convention in Las Vegas! I believe Todd Phillips intentionally did this, because he saw what Adam McKay, director of The Big Short, did with his film. Coming from a similar film background, and McKay succeeding in the blending of Comedy-Drama-Biography, Phillips knew there was a winning formula there. Adam McKay went from movies like Anchorman and Step Brothers, to a crowd and critic pleasing film that was not just a Best Picture nominee, but he even got a Best Director nod out of it as well. Todd Phillips knew there was a formula to being successful and he found it.
That being said, while War Dogs took some cues from The Big Short, War Dogs missed the mark in some areas that The Big Short succeeded in. The character development left me wanting more. Teller and Hills character arcs simply aren’t strong, especially for Teller. Multiple times they repeat the same plot point with Teller’s character and his girlfriend, played by Ana de Armas. He lies, she catches him. After a while, you just stop feeling bad for either character. Jonah Hill’s character, well, you realize he’s a jerk early on and he pretty much makes good on that. I also just need to say, Bradley Cooper is in this movie for, I don’t even know why. My guess is to sell movie tickets since the two main stars have some serious black marks on their resumes (Fantastic Four still haunts my dreams). Anybody could have filled that role.
The end of the movie does feel a bit rushed, despite overall pacing of the film being great. I was never bored and walked away feeling like I spent a solid two hours. It’s a fun, it’s funny, and it’s a great way to close out the summer movie season.