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May 23, 2008 |

By Dustin Rowles | Film | May 23, 2008 |

In the last year and a half, theaters have been slammed with Iraq War movies (In the Valley of Elah, Grace is Gone, Stop-Loss, Uncovered: The Whole Truth about the Iraq War and No End in Sight, just to name a few) and despite the fact that every one of those films was mediocre, at worst (Stop-Loss) or outright exceptional (Grace is Gone), not a one managed to eek out much scratch at the box-office. Either audiences have massive war fatigue, or — because of the mess in Iraq — they can’t afford to drive to the goddamn movie theaters to watch them.

War, Inc. is a bird of a different tarring feather, however, in that unlike the above films, this one sucks ass through a straw. Seriously: It is tit-rippingly awful — disjointed, nonsensical, somehow both underwhelming and over-the-top, dull as old-man boners and completely self-righteous to boot, as though it were written by an unemployed troll on an political blog who spends all day typing out conspiracy theories with the same fingers he uses to prod around in his own asshole, digging for nuggets of wisdom. It’s cinematic swamp-ass, and were it not for the considerable talent involved in the project, War, Inc. might be the type of movie that we’d laugh at ironically, like when Sean Penn fell out of the boat in New Orleans. Hahaha: Look at the celebrities! Aren’t they cute with their righteous indignation and their dated liberal rhetoric!” If you watch much of Bill Maher’s show, you know what I’m talking about: Experts from both sides of the political spectrum will come onto the panel and eloquently argue their point, and then George Costanza will roar, “Yeah, but the Bush Administration lied about WMDs in Iraq!” No shit: Welcome to 2003, Idiot Stick. Thanks for your insightful contribution. (The articulate and well-read Ben Affleck is generally the exception). Here’s a tip, Hollywood celebrities: Stick to what you do best, looking pretty and ignoring autograph requests. When you try to write and star in your own political movie, you tend to come off like the blowhard nitwit that you probably are behind the screen.

Strangely enough, however, War, Inc. seemed to have a lot going for it from the outset. In fact, I’m convinced that John Cusack — who had been reportedly working on a script for a Grosse Point Blank for the last decade or so — finally decided to take what he had and merge with it Noami Klein’s article “Baghdad Year Zero” to come up with a movie tantamount to putting Martin Blank in Iraq. Cusack took Grosse Point, added a political element, and then made it eat a bag of dicks — no easy feat when you have Ben Kingsley, Dan Akroyd, and Joan Cusack in the cast, not to mention Marisei Tomei and a surprisingly decent Hillary Duff.

In War, Inc, Cusack plays Brand Hauser, a hired hitman, although on a slightly larger scale than in Grosse Point — he’s charged with taking out an oil minister, Omar Shariff (ha?) in the war-torn country of Taraquistan. The catch here is that the United States government is now run completely by corporations instead of politicians, and wars are purely capitalistic enterprises — destroy a city and then outsource the rebuild, or as Dan Akroyd’s Cheney-esque character proclaims, “This is the first war ever 100 percent outsourced to private enterprises.” It’s all very Haliburtonny. And entirely too obvious to be decent political satire.

Hauser’s cover is running a trade show for the United States’ parent company, Tamerland, and putting on a wedding for a spoiled international teen star, Yonnica Babyyeah (Hillary Duff), a too-obvious metaphor for the Britneyization of the Middle East, for whom Hauser develops a fatherly affection toward. Hauser’s assistant is a double-agent played by Joan Cusack, who imbues her character with the same hysterical brand of anger she brought to Grosse Point (she is the only consistently funny part of War, Inc.).

In the midst of all this, a reporter from The Nation, played by Tomei, starts to question the motives behind the war, and the trade show, and the wedding, and whatever the hell else she can pull out of her ass (why she’s badgering the supposed guy in charge of a trade show for answers is beyond me). Basically, her character is forced, somewhat pointlessly, into the movie so that Hauser — who drinks shots of hot sauce to numb his numbness — will ultimately fall for her and, per usual for a Cusackian hitman, develop a crisis of conscience that will prevent him from pulling the trigger when he’s supposed to.

Unfortunately, though the corporatization of the current war is ripe for satire, and the message well intentioned for liberal yokels, the choir is too fucking bored to listen. The same satirical premise was explored far more deftly in both David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest and, more recently, Gary Shteyngart’s Absurdistan. War, Inc. is more like another bad spoof movie (Anti-War Movie?), written by Cusack and two of the six writers from Scary Movie and is about as funny as a flasturbating polar bear. Take, for instance, a scene in which so-called terrorists abduct an American and, as part of their ransom, ask for the trade of Lebron James for a player to be named later, or Hauser’s decidedly uncool Get Smart kung-fu manner of dispatching the bad guys. And don’t even ask what the point was in a scene featuring Hillary Duff dropping a scorpion down her pants — kind of fascinating, but ultimately stupid and useless, much like the movie as a whole.

Director Joshua Seftel attempts to go for a strange blend of Terry Gilliam and Dr. Strangelove in War, Inc.. Unfortunately, without the slightest gift for comic timing, the result is much closer to the even stranger blend of Mad TV and a copy of Liberal Talking Points for Dummies — it’s the sort of disaster that makes you pine away for other times, when Cusack was starring in much better films, like Must Love Dogs.

Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives with his wife and son in Ithaca, New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.

Grosse Point Dumb

War, Inc. / Dustin Rowles

Film | May 23, 2008 |

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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