Let’s just get it out of the way that this film is always going to be compared to Stanley Kubrick’s master satire Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. It’s just about as unfair to try and compare this film with that one as it is to expect Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull can live up to the expectations left by the trilogy that preceded it. OK, now that’s out of the way, we can actually get down to discussing this movie and why it doesn’t work.
War, Inc. is a labor of love by cult-favorite actor John Cusack. He’s co-written, produced and starred in this film, which really says a lot about how much it meant to him considering his careful choice of projects to work on in the past. He stars as hitman Brand Hauser who is sent to the fictional country of Turaqistan to assassinate the prime minister under the ruse of the elaborate wedding of over-sexed Turaqi pop star Yonica Babyyeah (Hillary Duff). Hauser meets reporter Natalie Hegalhuzen (Marisa Tomei) with whom he develops feelings for, all while also developing paternal feelings for Yonica. The country of Turaqistan is overrun by American commercialism with billboards littering the war torn landscape, namely the Halliburton inspired Tamerlane, who owns just about everything.
The saving grace of the film is the performances of the actors. John Cusack plays Hauser as an emotionless assassin who chugs shots of hot sauce for added quirkiness, and every bit of it is believable. I was amazed at his killing scenes and how much of a change it is in his character. It’s like a switch that’s turned on and he becomes this clever killer. I really enjoyed him. Joan Cusack is always enjoyable, but seems a little out of place here. That’s really strange to say since it’s just about expected to see her star in a movie alongside her brother, but it’s the truth. She’s exasperated and looks like she doesn’t quite get the joke. Everyone has been giving bad criticism to Hillary Duff’s portrayal of Yonica Babyyeah, but I really enjoyed her. It was something so different for her and I thought she did a really good job with it. Her accent was really phony, but that could just be attributed to the satire of the character. Marisa Tomei as Natalie is quite endearing as well. She has her typical Tomei wide-eyed and ditzy moments, but overall she did a fine job. She’s believable and with satire, that’s the biggest hurdle.
Unfortunately, everything else was pretty much a bomb.
Dan Akroyd plays the vice-president clearly intended to spoof Dick Cheney, but his performance is completely uninspired. To be honest, with the exception of the “poop scene”, I nearly forgot he was in the movie at all. Ben Kingsley is ghastly in this film and should really be ashamed of himself.
This being a satire, the humor should work on some level. I mean, we all get it that war is a corporation and America wants to police the world and turn every country into our country. Does the movie fail because it’s too soon and too close to home to satirize right now? Possibly. The film also jumps around from joke to absurd joke without following any type of rhyme or reason, so there’s that too. The one “joke” that I thought was the absolute worst was a mock capture and torturing of Natalie, Marisa Tomei’s character. The Turaqi’s captured her, videotaped her pleading for her life, then beat her. When Cusack goes to save her, he comes in guns blaring, only to find that the Turaqis were only making a movie. It seemed like Disaster Movie or Meet the Spartans style humor, not clever satire. There were several “jokes” that fell flat like this one.
So while one cannot compare this to Dr. Strangelove, Cusack could have at least learned something from it. Instead it comes off as though he had a real and creative satire, and instead of learning from the greats, he took his advice from Idiocracy. The two paths should never cross. Better luck next time, John.
This DVD release is presented in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio, with either 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround or 2.0 stereo. You can choose from English or Spanish subs.
Thankfully there were no extras except for the standard previews before the flick. This one featured: The Contract, Meet Bill, Blood Brothers, and the Takashi Miike/Quentin Tarantino collaboration Sukiyaki Western Django (I can’t freaking WAIT for that movie!)
Honestly, this movie provided absolutely nothing to ponder, nothing to bring up in a discussion with your friends, nothing. It gives nothing back. Other than seeing Hillary Duff skank it up and Ben Kingsley humiliating himsel, there’s really no reason to watch this movie. My suggestion would be to save the Netflix space in your queue for something else, save your DVD rental money and watch some clips on youtube. Oh, and look up that preview for Sukiyaki Western Django.
First Look Pictures presents War, Inc. Directed by Joshua Seftel. Starring John Cusack, Joan Cusack, Hillary Duff, Marisa Tomei, Ben Kingsley, Dan Ackroyd. Written by Mark Leyner, Jeremy Pikser, John Cusack. Running time: 107 minutes. Rated R. Released on DVD: October 14, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.