War, Inc. cuts its losses
In at least one of its toss-away scenes, Joshua Seftel’s War, Inc. rises to the level of brutal bad taste that distinguishes master satirists from Jonathan Swift to Stanley Kubrick. A kick line of “Turaqistani” female amputees rehearses a dance routine that, set to “New York, New York,” praises the corporation that both manufactured their prosthetic limbs and manufactured the weapons that maimed them in the first place. As a commentary on the perverse role played by Halliburton and similar war profiteers in US foreign policy, you can’t get much more lacerating than that.
VIDEO: The trailer for War, Inc.
Unfortunately, the tradition of irony that the rest of War draws from owes less to A Modest Proposal or Dr. Strangelove than to such facile purveyors of hip as Diablo Cody (blurbed in the movie ads), and in place of uncompromisingly absurd fire and brimstone, it peddles the same tepid politics that did in the recent slew of Iraq War movies. War does have John Cusack going for it, if not in his capacity as co-writer, then in his ability to give a conversational delivery to a line like “I feel like a refugee from the Island of Dr. Moreau, some morally inverted, twisted character from a Céline novel. The hot sauce helps.” At least they’re not making reference to ThunderCats and The Bone Collector.
As a mercenary for the ubiquitous and evil Tamerlane (from the ruthless Mongol chieftain by way of the wistful Edgar Allan Poe poem) Corporation, Cusack brings to the lethal, lost Brand Hauser the same puppy-dog nihilism that’s been his charm since Say Anything (1989). Hauser’s latest assignment is to assassinate a rival Middle Eastern oil broker, Omar Sharif (character names are not a strong point of the screenplay), under cover of a trade show in the “Emerald City” that’s to be topped off by the celebrity wedding of Middle Eastern superstar Yonica Babyyeah (Hillary Duff). Orchestrating it all is Tamerlane PR maven Marsha Dillon (a snorting Joan Cusack). Just another job for the weary gun for hire, but could investigative journalist Natalie Hegalhuzen (Marisa Tomei) be stirring something like a conscience in him?
Possibly — but to the average viewer, she’s more likely to come off as a moral scold with décolletage. In one of War’s most exhilarating scenes, Hauser disposes of a dozen evildoers with Jason Bourne efficiency. Killjoy Natalie, however, rolls her eyes in disgust. And shame on you in the audience for enjoying it!
This is War’s biggest problem: not its penchant for the sophomoric gag or the easy target but its inability to lose the agenda and indulge in the insanity of its subject. It’s the same namby-pambiness that sank American Dreamz and Southland Tales. What’s wanted is a sensibility that’s less Lions for Lambs and more You Don’t Mess with the Zohan. And more scenes like that amputee chorus line, or the long sequence in a Turaqistan no-man’s-land that plays like a highlight from Apocalypse Now by way of Full Metal Jacket.
No need to hammer home the lessons to be learned — if the viewers aren’t going to be converted, they can at least be entertained. Especially when those lessons have been long since acknowledged and ignored. The genius of jesters like Swift and Kubrick lies not in their lampooning of the villains of the day but in their gleeful exposure of the perennial human folly that allows villains to prosper.
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