War, Inc., the latest John Cusack film, had a lot of things going for it: amidst a hugely unpopular war, it was a satirical comedy that pokes fun of and criticizes American policies overseas. Unfortunately, it had one thing going against it: it was a satirical comedy that pokes fun of and criticizes American policies overseas. It's not that people disagree with the political themes presented in the movie; it's just that people don't care to see movies with political themes in general.
Of course, if people are looking for escapist cinema, War, Inc. is about as escapist as political films can be. Cusack plays Brand Hauser, an assassin/government executive who has been brought to the fake country of Turaqistan to kill a successful businessman who is speaking out against the outsourced American troops - funded and branded by a private corporation and led by a former U.S. vice president (Dan Akroyd) - that are occupying the country. To kill the businessman, however, Hauser has to pose as a trade show producer and organize the wedding of local pop star named Yonica Babyyeah (Hilary Duff). Marisa Tomei also stars as a feisty reporter and Joan Cusack plays a woman who is in charge of something or another.
War, Inc. is a funny enough film with some good gags, sexy scenes involving Tomei and especially Ms. Duff and pretty typical John Cusack humor. At the same time, it isn't nearly as funny or clever as it wanted to be. Director Joshua Seftel and the three writers (who include John Cusack) got a little too caught up in making a ludicrous setting and atmosphere that they forgot to fine tune each scene and make it the edgy, hilarious picture it could have been. While watching, you never really feel that the movie misses the mark, but looking back, few scenes in War, Inc. stand out in any way or form. Highlights include Duff's song, "I Want to Blow You... Up" and a war simulation room designed for reporters. There are a lot of clever ideas floating around, but they never gel into a concrete script.
War, Inc. is entertaining and easy to watch, regardless of your political persuasion, but it is yet another John Cusack film that will soon be forgotten.
Review by Robert Bell (B)War movies and war satires haven't been well received over the last year. With the lackluster performances of Stop-Loss, Rendition, The Kingdom and The Hunting Party, it's no surprise that a seemingly mainstream movie featuring John Cusack and Hilary Duff would be relegated to limited release and art house cinemas. It seems that people aren't very interested in getting a dose of reality or hearing endless social commentary on increasingly fuzzy wars and foreign occupations. The quirky antics of the TMZ guys and plastic-titted Hugh Hefner girls next door seem to be higher on priority lists this side of the Atlantic.
While War Inc. is far from a perfect film, suffering from an occasionally convoluted plot that doesn't entirely make sense and some hackneyed conveniences that come into play in the third act, it is a unique and peculiar experience that needs to be seen to be believed. Acting as a solid satire with decent action and some inspired comic moments, War Inc. struggles mainly with dramatic ire when trying to give the illusion of greater significance. It attempts to balance quirky comedy with legitimate social satire, ultimately sacrificing both in an effort to cover every base. The most effective moments in the film are ones that ignore narrative balance and follow their own natural trajectory.
A private corporation run by former US vice president (Dan Aykroyd) sends hitman Brand Hauser (John Cusack) over to the recently occupied Turaqistan to assassinate Omar Sharif (Lyobomir Neikov), a middle-east oil minister, in order to maximize commercial profit from the struggling nation. Hauser and his eccentric partner Marsha (Joan Cusack) have been sent under the guise of organizing the high profile wedding of pop princess Yonica Babyyeah (Hilary Duff) to Ooq-Mi-Fay (Sergej Trifunovic). Finding himself in a moral crisis that is only exacerbate by the liberal-minded rants of plucky reporter Natalie (Marisa Tomei), Brand invests more of his energies in protecting Yonica from her own destiny as a product of North American packaging and greed.
The subtext in War Inc. isn't exactly subtle, nor does it need to be. Images of ever-morphing American celebrities (including "Flipper") are visible at every landmark, as are tanks with flashy advertisements and corporate logos. Solid effort is made to exploit American occupation through comic effect, most effectively when gift bags are handed out to political leaders and when war amputees are doing the can-can with fancy new prosthetic limbs. As a lefty American poli-com it's a relatively glib oversimplification of complex issues, offering very little insight on profiteering and international relations, but communicates its point effectively to a less discerning, and generally less politically interested, audience.
While certain trajectories work well in the film, there are a number of plot devices and decisions that don't fully satisfy or pan out on a narrative whole. Sequences involving Hilary Duff singing sexually charged songs about foreign invasion and terrorism, while erotically licking a fuel pump nozzle, are highly clever and amusing, but are often overshadowed by annoyances like Cusack's repeating hot sauce gag and a misguided denouement involving foxy fillies with machine guns.
Performances by lead thesps are uniformly solid, if occasionally uninspired. John Cusack has played this role so many times before that, despite his best efforts, the gig seems tired and recycled. Joan Cusack, on the other hand, is delightful as his hypomanic sidekick, who is unfortunately given too little screen time. Surprisingly, Hilary Duff isn't that bad, not completely screwing up her accent; she demonstrates some range and charisma.
Hardcore fans of the anarchic mayhem demonstrated in Grosse Point Blank should find some amusement in this slightly more bizarre tonal retread, but anyone looking for a cohesive narrative will likely find themselves disappointed and confused.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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