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Jonah Hill, Miles Teller join forces to play arms-dealing thugs in cynical ‘War Dogs’

Miles Teller as David and Jonah Hill as Efraim in Warner Bros. Pictures' comedic drama (based on true events) "War Dogs," a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
Miles Teller as David and Jonah Hill as Efraim in Warner Bros. Pictures' comedic drama (based on true events) "War Dogs," a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Warner Bros. Pictures

This is weird: Vocally, Jonah Hill and Miles Teller sound eerily alike, even though they’re completely different physical types. If “War Dogs” were more interesting, this wouldn’t warrant a mention. But director and co-writer Todd Phillips’ flat, enervated movie, based on a 2011 Rolling Stone story about two Miami pals who stumbled into international arms-dealing, gives you all too much time to focus on things like that.

A 2008 prologue reveals David Packouz (Teller) at the wrong end of a pistol somewhere in Albania. How did he get there? Swoop back to 2005. At a schoolmate’s funeral in Miami, David reunites with his troublemaking high school friend Efraim Diveroli (Hill). Efraim used to buy and sell firearms online. Now, though, he specializes: “I only sell to one gun nut: The U.S. military.”

The movie follows a familiar blueprint of seduction, one wolf indoctrinating another wolf into the world of high-risk riches. First, the boys scrounge for low-level U.S. government contracts, supplying America’s fighting forces (and the Iraqi police) with pistols at a nice profit. Their low-ball bids prove successful. Then, the mother lode: They land a contract supplying the Afghan military with 100 million rounds of AK-47 ammo, a deal requiring a shady middleman (Bradley Cooper) but worth tens of millions. It’s a long way from David’s previous line of sales, involving “quality bedsheets wholesale.”

David lies up a storm to his pregnant girlfriend (Ana de Armas) about his actual job and his actual whereabouts. The movie lies, too. It promises a rollicking bromance with a chase of moral reckoning, but “War Dogs” doesn’t have the nerve or the filmmaking acumen to challenge the audience.

One shot in particular points to the film that could have been. Retreating from gunfire coming from Iraqi insurgents, the lads are rescued by a U.S. military helicopter in the nick of time. Then a U.S. military vehicle passes them on a desert highway, its occupants giving our antiheroes the bird. David and Efraim are stoner savants in over their heads, “war dogs” profiting from one geopolitical crisis after another.

The movie coasts on a blasé, easygoing highway of cynicism regarding how America conducts its business of war. In the end, we’re left with the feeling that a pretty good anecdote has been inflated into a bubble-headed American Dream morality tale.

Movie review

‘War Dogs’

Rated R for language throughout, drug use and some sexual references. 1:54

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