If there were any two more unlikely 20-something year olds to make a $300 million dollar arms deal with the Pentagon, it would be David Packouz and Ephraim Diveroli, two stoner friends living in Miami. It’s their real-life near-success story that serves as the inspiration for Todd Phillips’ “Wardogs,” a dramedy that clearly leans more comedy than drama.
The film is a bizarre combination of Phillips’ outrageous “The Hangover” and the 2005 film “Lord of War,” a grim and violent satire on the global gun trade starring Nicholas Cage as an amoral arms dealer selling to the highest bidder.
“Wardogs,” is far from a disaster, but it lacks the originality and creativity that made his bachelor party flick so popular. Phillips has boarded “The Hangover” train and refuses to get off, milking his success in parts two and three of the original, while allowing it to taint his future cinematic endeavors. The film even hops over to Las Vegas for a few scenes. Fortunately none of our main characters become trapped on the roof, although Bradley Cooper does step in to save the day.
Despite living in the tropical paradise of Miami, David Packouz’s (Teller) life is anything but bliss. After dropping out of school and bouncing from one job to the next, Packouz first makes ends meet as a massage therapist for local millionaires before leaping into the disastrous business venture selling bedsheets to retirement homes. When his girlfriend Iz (Ana de Armas) reveals she’s pregnant, Packouz’s financial fears peak, until his best friend from junior high, Ephraim Diveroli (Hill), steps back into his life.
Diveroli, a mercenary to the core, eventually initiates Packuoz into his shady company, AEY, which supplies weapons and ammunition to the beleaguered U.S. military in Iraq. The young entrepreneurs start small making their living off the “crumbs” — smaller contracts overlooked by larger arms dealers. But when one of their deals goes sour, they take their business abroad by personally smuggling 10,000 Beretta pistols across the Jordanian-Iraqi border, through the Triangle of Death and finally into the open arms of American troops.
As one success builds upon the next small-time AEY transforms into a multi-million dollar company. The boys are living their “Scarface” fantasies and when the opportunity arises for the partners to make a deal that’s too good to be true supplying the Pentagon with outdated AK-47 ammunition, they seize it.
Despite the characters’ presence in more than one hostile environment, war remains an abstract concept throughout “Wardogs.” Packouz and Diveroli (especially Diveroli) are the ugly Americans we’d all rather not be associated with when traveling — arrogant and completely removed, they profit off the misery of others. It’s a clear message delivered in the subtle comic cues and wisecracks of Jonah Hill.
And, if you think you’ve seen all Hill can do, think again.
Diveroli is crass, violent, manipulative and a completely different role for Hill, who captures the gangster spirit of this unrepentant Orthodox Jewish kid with a penchant (and talent) for the arms business.
Hill is at the top of his game, and he’s definitely the high point of the film.
Miles Teller on the other hand, who seems to have come out of no where but now appears everywhere, primarily serves as the morally concerned counterpart to Jonah Hill’s character. And, Bradley Cooper, whose veteran status should have elevated the film, feels more like a careless attempt to make up for the lack of faith Phillips had in his newest recruits.
“Wardogs” serves up some pretty good laughs but it’s a cheap thrill and a bit of a missed opportunity to develop some really creative comedy or make a more critical assessment of global gun smuggling. Torn between old “Hangover” habits and loftier goals, Phillips can’t decide what to make of the film, and neither can we.