Thursday, June 26, 2008

War, Inc.

After reading John Cusack's online discussion at, I was intrigued to see his movie, War, Inc., so I set off to a local second run theater where for the price of $5.00 I could watch the satirical spoof on the new mercenaries of war--American corporations.

At Moviefone, the flick was rated a mere two stars by the critics--but five out of five by the fans. Turns out the movie is somewhere in between. It's a bit of a mess with attempts to be outlandish, outrageous and over-the-top giving the serious subject matter a muffled and muddled telling. Although wildly uneven and fitfully entertaining, I found myself enjoying the movie more despite myself as it got deeper into the story and the characters. But I also found myself wondering how this comic diatribe on the commercialization of tragedy could have worked better.

It seemed to me that in trying to point out the absurdity of outsourcing war efforts--the inherent conflict of interest and lack of motivation for striving for peace--the filmmakers overdid it. With running gags about hot sauce, gift bags, advertising and even a know-it-all GPS system (voiced by Montel Williams), the writers (one of whom was star and producer Cusack) overload the satirical story with everything but the kitchen sink. In an interview, Cusack says of the film's intent:

"When you realize this is the most privatized war in modern history, and that within this Republican ideology, literally everything, every core function of state, is to be turned into a for-profit entrepreneurial opportunity then we're through the looking glass and the nightmare is real. There is no function of the state they don't want to turn into a business. Once you have opened up prisoner interrogation, wiretapping, border patrol, jailing and the services of the military, when this has been turned into a for-profit business in this endless war, then we're in deep trouble."
It's a noble sentiment--and ripe for satirizing--but instead of concentrating their efforts on this hugely important issue, the writers also choose to poke at pop-tart pop stars and wannabe rappers, rampant commercialization, trade shows and expos, Hummers and navigation systems, fast food and power bars and the ubiquitous Hollywood gift bag. Throw in a sly homage to gratuitous hyper-violent Tarantino-esque flicks and you've got a movie bogged down by the weight of its own parody. The film tries too hard to be absurd and it tries too hard to be smart. There's a big difference between smart dialogue--witty banter that sounds off the cuff and spontaneous--and intellectual dialogue which sounds like it was painstakingly written and re-written as an agenda-making speech. The repartee between Cusack and Tomei's character is supposed to be smart and witty, but is dry, dull, professor-lecturing intellectual.

This isn't to say that War, Inc. wasn't entertaining. It certainly had its moments. Cusack plays Brand Hauser, a tormented hired assassin whose cover for his latest assignment is a trade show director in war torn Turaqistan. It's a decidedly similar role to his angst ridden hitman in Grosse Point Blank. His intended target, Omar Sharif (Lyubomir Neikov), is actually one of the most likable and intelligent characters in the movie. For some inexplicable reason, even though I could understand the actor completely, the filmmakers decided to subtitle all of Omar's speeches. Now I can forgive Hillary Duff's uneven Middle Eastern accent and Ben Kingsley's horrific miscasting as Hauser's ex-boss, or an unfunny Dan Aykroyd as the Vice President or the lame pseudo-therapist GPS guy, but one of Omar's subtitles had him referring to "with it's celebration of life..."

Aaaarrrrrgggghhhhh! "Its" not "it's"! "It's" is always the contraction of it + is. "It's" = "It is." It's (note proper usage!) bad enough that they felt the need to use subtitles for an actor speaking perfectly understandable English--but then to make such an egregious error! Now, that's a TRAVESTY!

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