‘War Dogs’ Works Because of Jonah Hill’s Performance

Hear “Take Two Movie Reviews” every Saturday and Sunday at  8:45 and 11:45 a.m. and 5:45 p.m., on 97.9 WHAV.

Hear “Take Two Movie Reviews” every Saturday and Sunday at 8:45 and 11:45 a.m. and 5:45 p.m., on 97.9 WHAV.

Movies about scams have proliferated in recent years, especially after the success of “American Hustle” and “Wolf of Wall Street.”

The latest of these, “War Dogs,” which shares acting talent with both of these, is based loosely on a “Rolling Stone” expose about two friends, Ephraim and David, who get involved in a government initiative during the Iraq war that allowed small businesses to bid on military contracts. They proceed to parlay their modest gains into a bigger and bigger fortune, using a mix of daring and devious tactics, until they are playing in the big leagues, where true to form for the genre, they are in over their heads, and it all goes south.

Ephraim is played by Jonah Hill, and carries the movie with a brand of self-assured swagger, mixed with a healthy dose of sociopathy. The director here is Todd Phillips of “The Hangover” franchise, and the movie definitely springs from the young-males-behaving-badly category. This leads to at least the question of whether the story of greed-sters bilking taxpayers to provide instruments of death for a questionable military adventure is appropriate fodder for a frat-boy comedy, and whether the protagonists should be cast in a sympathetic light. The other side of that argument is, of course, that humor is the best pillory.

The pico font screen notes and supposed-to-be relevant music clips, many of them from the wrong era, don’t a docu-drama make here, but on the strength of Hill’s performance, and Miles Teller’s support, “War Dogs” works more than it doesn’t, though it may have helped if Cooper’s character had been developed more. Sadly, the Bush-era U.S. government doesn’t receive story credit at the end.Without them, the whole story couldn’t have happened.

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