War Dogs Miles Teller, Jonah Hill, Ana de Armas. Directed by Todd Phillips. Rated R. Opens Friday citywide.
Director and co-writer Todd Phillips, best known for the Hangover movies, hedges his bets a little on the true-life drama War Dogs by throwing in Caesars Palace and Bradley Cooper. But it turns out he doesn’t really need to worry; as much as it resembles other recent movies (especially Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain and Adam McKay’s The Big Short), War Dogs stands pretty well on its own, deploying just enough comedy to entice the audience while treating the true story it’s based on with appropriate seriousness.
That’s the story of unlikely arms dealers Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill, doing an amped-up version of his Wolf of Wall Street performance) and David Packouz (Miles Teller), childhood friends who leveraged low-level military contracts into a massive deal that found them in way over their heads. Based on a Rolling Stone article (and subsequent book) by Guy Lawson, War Dogs has fun with Efraim and David’s early misadventures in arms dealing, but gets a bit lost (as its characters do) when things start to escalate. The plot could have used a little tightening, but it comes together effectively again in the end, as the central duo’s plans collapse around them. Phillips knows when to make fun of his characters, and when to lose the ironic distance for something real. He’s no Scorsese yet, but he understands how to imitate the best.