2016 Certificate: 15

Synopsis

Miami masseur David Packouz (Miles Teller) makes a bold career move when he goes into the gun trade with his old school buddy Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), a low-level arms dealer who stays just the right side of legitimate. Starting small, they soon get bigger by picking up minor but lucrative contracts for the US military during the Iraq War. But the pair get in over their heads when they land a massive deal that puts them in business with some very shady people, and in some even shadier places. Think The Big Short with bullets as The Hangover director Todd Phillips plays it fast, loose and laugh-out-loud funny with an incredible true story.

Director

  • Todd Phillips

Cast

  • Jonah Hill

  • Miles Teller

  • Bradley Cooper

  • Ana de Armas

  • Kevin Pollak

Review

The Big Short with bullets. Wolf of Wall Street with warfare. Lord of War with larks. Call it what you will but, by making light of a serious matter, the glibly enjoyable War Dogs sounds like pure satire. But, take or leave the odd dramatic liberty, the story behind it is absolutely true.

In 2005, David Packouz (Teller) is dawdling along as a massage therapist in Miami when he is reunited with his old pot-smoking pal Efraim Diveroli (Hill), a small-time arms dealer with big ambitions.

Efraim is keen to cash in on a government policy that allows private companies to bid for any military contract, whether it be for office supplies or fighter jets. Leaving the big stuff to military-industrial giants like Halliburton and Lockheed, Efraim is initially happy to feed off the 'crumbs', shifting basic kit and side-arms.

After a few scares - including a trip through Iraq's "Triangle of Death" - business begins to boom. But as their greed grows, crumbs aren't enough. So when they make a deal to supply 100 million rounds of ammunition to the Afghan military, they think they've got the whole cake.

Unfortunately, after going into partnership with the world's most notorious arms broker (Bradley Cooper in too-cool-for-school mode), the boys find themselves stumbling into one minefield after another - logistical, legal and personal.

As the director of ​Road Trip​Starsky & Hutch and ​The Hangover trilogy, Todd Phillips can clearly deliver a macho caper with verve and swagger. But, while regularly jogging the funny bone, this is the first of his films to make - or even have - an actual point.

Using Packouz and Diveroli's story as a near-perfect metaphor, it neatly exposes some of the more dubious policies and practices that drive the US government's war machine.

That said, while making David the narrator, it never fully explains how he wound up such a willing and gullible accomplice to Efraim's larger-than-life shyster.

There's inconsistency in both their characters, switching unconvincingly between incredibly smart and incredibly dumb, sometimes in the same breath. But while Hill gets away with it as the big, brash, funny guy, it does no favours for Teller's somewhat colourless stooge.

Ana de Armas (​Knock Knock) is also underserved as David's gun-hating fiancée, Iz. Ostensibly on hand to provide a moral compass, she obviously puts a downer on the main bromance. Consequently, her appearances feel decidedly token.

But for David and Efraim the story rarely sits still, plunging them into scrapes and skulduggery from the glamour pits of Miami Beach and Las Vegas to the armpits of Albania and Iraq.

It's a preposterous tale about a preposterous business. But the fact that half this stuff really went down makes it preposterous fun.

Elliott Noble