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Worth A Look: 31.03%
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Pretty Crappy: 3.45%
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3 reviews, 11 user ratings

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War, Inc.
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by Peter Sobczynski

"When Johnny Goes Marching Off To War To Profit, To Profit"
4 stars

“War, Inc” is a film that attempts to use outrageous satire as a method of communicating the various points that it so desperately and angrily wants to make about the state of the world today, specifically the ways in which contemporary warfare has become less about territory or political ideology and more about corporations attempting to expand their business empires by any means necessary in the pursuit of greater profits. This is a noble enough idea for a film but its effectiveness is somewhat undercut by two unavoidable flaws. Because it is a film that is essentially aimed at an audience that already shares its political viewpoints, there is a certain sense throughout that it is merely preaching to the converted and because the world situation has become so out of whack in recent years that even the most bizarre stabs at over-the-top dark comedy that it indulges in so as to make its various points can’t help but pale in comparison with what can be found in the headlines of your daily newspaper.

John Cusack stars as Brand Hauser, a young man whose pleasant exterior effectively hides the fact that he is actually an international hit man willing to rent his services out to anyone who has someone that they want dead and the ability to meet his quote. Although ruthless and cool in his professional life, as we see in an opening sequence in which he efficiently dispatches a group of Germans in a Canadian bar without hardly seeming to move a muscle, he is anything but in his personal life--he has begun to grow increasingly detached and disillusioned, the closest thing that he seems to have to a friend and sounding board is the disembodied voice of the guy from his Guidestar navigation system and he struggles to keep his demons at bay by constantly downing shot glasses filled with hot sauce. For his next assignment, he has been retained by none other than the former Vice-President of the United States (Dan Aykroyd) to go off to Turaqistan, an oil-rich Mideast country currently in the throes of the first war in which all of the elements have been complete outsourced to private contractors, and assassinate oil minister Omar Sharif for having the temerity to insist that his country can build their own oil pipeline without any help from Tamerlane, the veep’s contracting firm. To provide a cover story while he plans Sharif’s assassination, Brand poses as the head honcho behind a Tamerlane-sponsored trade fair that hopes to spread American-style consumerism to Turaqistan and which will climax with the televised wedding of local superstar Yonica Babyyeah (Hilary Duff. ..yes, Hilary Duff), a pop tart described as “the Britney Spears of Central Asia) to the loutish son of a local emir.

Although he supposed to be busy planning Sharif’s assassination, Hauser finds himself being distracted by any number of unexpected elements. Some are pleasant, such as the presence of intrepid journalist Natalie Hegalhuzen (Marisa Tomei), whom he decides to get to know better--possibly because her ideals remind him of the kind of person that he wishes that he could be and possibly because she looks like Marisa Tomei. Some are mysterious, such as the identity of “The Viceroy,” a figure who seems to be the real power in Turaqistan and who only appears as a disembodied voice from video screens filled with pictures of American icons ranging from Ronald Reagan to Mr. T. Some are slightly creepy, such as the strange advances that Yonica begins to make towards him, including the deployment of a strategically placed scorpion as a tool of seduction. Some are downright troubling, such as his growing disenchantment with what he is being asked to do (“Get me Katie Couric, al Jazeera and 100 gallons of sheepshit!”), eye-opening glances to what he is helping to inflict on the people of Turaqistan and memories of the past tragedy that helped make him the man that he is today.

As you can probably surmise from the above synopsis, subtlety is not one of the strong points of “War, Inc.”--hell, the title along suggests a certain lack of restraint. I have no doubt that many of the reviews and discussions of this film and its over-the-top comedic stylings to Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 masterpiece “Dr. Strangelove,” another film that utilized jet-black comedy as a way of grappling with the horrors of the modern world and modern warfare as opposed to the kind of somber and self-serious approach favored by well-meaning but terminally dull filmmakers like Stanley Kramer in films like “On the Beach.” The only problem with such a comparison is that, unlike most of the political satires that it would go on to inspire in the following decades (a broad spectrum ranging from great films like “The President’s Analyst” and the tragically underrated “Southland Tales” to curiosities like the little-remembered 1982 title “Wrong is Right” to such disasters as “American Dreamz” and “Postal”), “Dr Strangelove” was, at least until its unforgettable final image of Slim Pickins straddling his A-bomb like the world’s biggest and baddest bronco, actually a fairly subtle film that managed to both amuse and horrify precisely because it didn’t seem as if it was stretching too far in terms of the writing or the performances to get laughs--if you turn the sound down and just look at it from a visual standpoint, there is very little there that betrays it as a comedy. (In fact, Kubrick originally planned on telling the story, based on the serious-minded novel “Red Alert,” in a straight-faced and straight-laced manner until he realized that the only way to do it justice would be to stage it as an apocalyptic farce). The problem with “War, Inc” is that it plays as what “Strangelove” might have been like if every single scene had been done along the lines of that infamous finale and after a while, the strain of coming up with newer and wilder outrages becomes increasingly noticeable. At first, it is funny when the Vice-President announces that he was “preemptively pardoned” for all future crimes or Hauser insisting to the incredulous Natalie that the repeated sounds of explosions just outside of his office is actually not an indication that there is an attack going on. However, by the time we get a sequence set in the ruins of a failed theme park dedicated to the glories of ancient Rome or complications involving a diabolical plot to sell X-rated videos of Yonica‘s wedding night, even the slowest audience members have gotten the joke and it just becomes a little too wacky and stridently on-the-nose for its own good.

Another film that “War, Inc.” will find itself being compared to a lot is “Grosse Pointe Blank,” the brilliant 1997 dark comedy in which John Cusack played a hit-man whose qualms about his life come to a head when he winds up returning to his home town for a job the same weekend as his high school reunion--not only did he have the awkward reunion with the girlfriend that he abandoned when he suddenly disappeared after graduation, it turned out that her father was his latest target. In many regards, “War Inc.” could be considered at least a quasi-sequel to that earlier film and in fact, I understand that it was originally developed as a straightforward continuation until that approach was deemed unsatisfactory and it spun off into this variant. As with “Dr Strangelove,” “Grosse Pointe Blank” was another remarkably subtle film that wasn’t about a hit man attending his high-school reunion as much as it was a metaphor for the anxieties faced by many young people at a particular time in life when they are forced to revisit the people that they used to be, accept the people that they have become and contemplate the people that they are on the road to becoming. This time around, the screenplay by Cusack, novelist Mark Leyner & Jeremy Pikser (whose previous screenwriting credit was for another wild political satire, 1998’s “Bulworth”) lacks the nuance of “Grosse Pointe Blank”--it is about the follies of war and nothing else and while that might be all right for some, the lack of any other levels may come across as disappointing to the legions of fans who have embraced the earlier film in the years since it first appeared.

And yet, while even the most charitable viewer would be forced to consider “War Inc.” to be a somewhat unfocused and undisciplined mess, there are still a lot of good things strewn throughout the wreckage. There are any number of funny bits on display ranging from hilarious corporate double-talk (“Business is a uniquely human response to moral or cosmic crisis”) to goofy sight gags (such as the latest attempt to transform the wartime experience into a bloodless videogame for the increasingly cowed media--a virtual reality machine that offers up the “Implanted Journalist Experience” without actually having to go out into the real world to see what is going on) to bitterly humorous bits of the blackest comedy (a kick-line of amputees proudly displaying artificial limbs made by, in an extreme case of vertical integration, the same companies who produced the armaments that removed their body parts in the first place) to nutty non-sequiters (I will just say that no one has ever gone up to the counter at Popeye’s and requested Boss Sauce with the aplomb that Hauser does here.) Most of the performances are good to excellent, though while Cusack always excels in these morally conflicted hipster parts and Tomei continues the hot streak that she has been on for the last couple of years in films like “Factotum” and “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” the film is surprisingly stolen by none other than Hilary Duff, who is actually pretty hysterical as the sweetly salacious Yonika--by choosing to appear in a film like this instead of another innocuous tween comedy, she demonstrates that she wants to show that she can do more than smile and wear nice clothes and by doing it as well as she does here, she demonstrates that she has the chops to do it. And yes, when you least expect it, the film even manages to come up with a genuinely radical and transgressive moment or two--the sight of teen queen Duff wielding a machine gun against the representatives of American corporate interests is definitely an eyebrow-raiser.

One the one hand, “War Inc.” is a bit of a disappointment in that it is simply too scattered and to ever really work either as satirical comedy or as political commentary. On the other hand, while it never comes together as a whole, it does contain enough funny moments and ideas to make it worth a look for those of you who think that it sounds somewhat interesting. Watching it is a lot like reading an old back issue of “The Onion”--the jokes are still funny and the points are still clear but it lacks the sense of urgency and coherence that might have transformed it from the well-meaning but merely okay film that it is into the kind of contemporary classic that it clearly wants to be.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17344&reviewer=389
originally posted: 06/13/08 00:17:39
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User Comments

3/25/11 Roy Smith Predictable arcs, ridiculous when not boring. Tomei still lovely though. 2 stars
7/14/09 art THIS IS NOT A MOVIE,THIS IS A CARTOON! 1 stars
6/26/09 MP Bartley Really heavy-handed, but plus points for trying. 3 stars
5/08/09 art OUTRAGEOUS! 4 stars
4/09/09 Nester Anything that attacks the corportocracy is worthwhile 4 stars
10/18/08 George (DUKE) VERY LAME 1 stars
7/02/08 Ronald Pottol deserves better distrubution than it has recived 4 stars
6/13/08 gdfgdf WTF? Why this movie have such a high rating? This movie sucked major ass! 1 stars
6/07/08 John Patricio Kept losing interest. Couldve been better 3 stars
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  23-May-2008 (R)
  DVD: 14-Oct-2008


  DVD: 14-Oct-2008

Directed by
  Joshua Seftel

Written by
  Mark Leyner
  Jeremy Pikser
  John Cusack

  John Cusack
  Hilary Duff
  Marisa Tomei
  Joan Cusack
  Dan Aykroyd
  Ben Kingsley

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