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Teller (left) and Hill in War Dogs. The black comedy shocks and awes with larger-than-life characters and a slightly over-the-top plot.

Comedy about price of war hits target

02/09/2016 - 05:50

DESPITE being based on a true story, it's tempting to take War Dogs with a pinch of salt as the biopic mixes social-political commentary with stoner comedy.

Adapted from a Rolling Stone magazine article about two young hustlers who stumble upon a shady money-making scheme selling arms to the US military during the mid-2000s Bush-Cheney invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, it shocks and awes with larger-than-life characters and a slightly over-the-top plot. But hey, truth can sometimes be stranger than fiction, right?

Co-written and directed by Todd Phillips who channels the humour of his own The Hangover trilogy through the emotional drama of the Nicholas Cage-starring Lord of War (2005) and the violence of Brian De Palma's classic 80s mobster flick Scarface, War Dogs is as dark as a black comedy can get even with all the frat-boy jokes in it.

Jonah Hill and Miles Teller play Efraim Diveroli and David Packouz respectively, two childhood friends in Miami who reconnect years later when they are in their 20s. The latter is down on his luck and makes a living giving massages (and more) to the rich.

When his girlfriend (Ana de Armas) becomes pregnant, Packouz realises he must get his life back on track fast and act like a responsible parent/adult.

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Enters Diveroli who ropes him in to work on his startup which buys and sells weapons to the US army over the Internet.

Even as "war dogs" - the bottom-feeders who mop any business considered too small for the big boys - the pair make a tidy sum as small-time gun-runners and start working their way up. In between, the two smoke plenty of weed to celebrate the closing of deals, and live the high life with their new-found wealth.

When they have trouble fulfilling a US$300-million order, Packouz and Diveroli find themselves suddenly in the big league and dealing with more shady characters than they can imagine. Packouz also starts to see Diveroli's true colours and decides arms-dealing isn't the safest career option for a new father.

Teller, who was impressive in the musical drama Whiplash (2014) but found himself overshadowed by his co-star JK Simmons, suffers the same fate here.

Though better known for his comic roles, Hill steals the show in War Dogs as the psychotic and amoral Diveroli - complete with a sick and sinister laugh that suggests maybe all isn't well in his character's head.

True enough, the latter goes ballistic a la Tony Montana by the end; which might leave some wondering how War Dogs went from The Hangover to Scarface so suddenly.

But Phillips keeps things tight and the film is a terrifying expose of the international arms black market and an intriguing look into the real price of war.

Rating: B+