Thursday, June 5, 2008

War Inc.: sentimental satire that doesn't take the gloves off... does feature funny poo jokes

I suppose it’s to the film’s credit that War Inc. dispenses with any doubts about its self-identification as broad satire very early in the proceedings. To the strains of a supremely winky spaghetti western strum, corporate hitman Brand Hauser (John Cusack) is seen taking out three Germans in a bar in Nunavut, taking his regular hits of ultra-intestine corroding chili sauce, and taking instructions from a former US vice president and CEO of Tamerlane, a wildly successful weapons manufacturer, over the web-phone while said CEO is seen taking a giant steaming dump. Hauser’s new gig is in war-torn Turaqistan, which is of course a stand-in for Iraq. The ex-VP is of course a stand-in for Dick Cheney, Tamerlane of course a stand-in for Halliburton, and Hauser, with his deep cynicism, digestive problems, shaky hands and increasing weariness, stands in, rather uneasily, for the repressed conscience of the American public, tacit participants in a monstrously ill-fated post-post-colonial experiment, chugging down whatever over-the-counter medication to erase their guilt.

Hauser is charged with the assassination of one Omar Sharif (no, not that Omar Sharif), a romantic, rotund Middle Eastern oil minister whose plans to lay a pipeline through Turaqistan threatens Tamerlane’s monopoly on the ravaged nation’s resources. Hauser’s to enter the country under the guise of overseer of a Tamerlane trade show, an extravaganza replete with chorus girls sporting the corporation’s generously donated artificial limbs and a performance from Central Asia’s biggest pop sensation, the nubile and talentless Yonica Babyyeah (Hilary Duff). The occupation of Turaqistan is the first such military operation to be completely outsourced to private corporations and its time to celebrate.

Sound like a smugly self-satisfying (for Liberals, at least) laugh riot yet? Just wait! Hauser’s operation is soon compromised by the entrance of funny-named Natalie Hegalhuzen (Marisa Tomei), a courageous—and foxy—journalist writing for a magazine nobody who lives between New York and Los Angeles actually reads. Hauser’s heart is swollen and his political apathy broken by Natalie’s feisty assertiveness, and though she plays hard to get, her being kidnapped by insurgents who really just want to make arty snuff videos will soon ensure that Hauser will have to save her life and make sacrifices that throw his whole killing-machine lifestyle upside-down. And there’s still the flashbacks that explain why Hauser’s so haunted, because as all moviegoers know, hitmen are really just hardened men in need of a hug.

The notion that War Inc., directed by Joshua Seftel, could function as a bitingly comic, enlightening or enraging commentary on some relevant political topic is so misguided its not even funny. At best it might have been Blood Diamond—the comedy! But really it’s no more politically astute than Grosse Point Blank, the first appearance of Cusack’s endearing hitman character, which, like War Inc., found Cusack contributing as co-scripter and co-producer and, like War Inc., featured a fun sidekick role for his sister. War Inc.’s obvious model is Dr. Strangelove, yet its story, and most especially its hero, are way too mushy-hearted to properly align itself with Stanley Kubrick’s ruthless send-up of Cold War insanity. There are to be sure talented performers at work here, and a few gags are certainly successful (okay, so I laughed at Dan Ackroyd taking a dump on the horn), but the whole is severely side-tracked by its own lack of focus, its excess of cheap potshots, and its ultimate succumbing to the very Hollywood conventions that it should be rallying against.

There’s also the niggling factor of War Inc.’s reliance on a white male American antihero to redeem an otherwise ghastly situation, not to mention the occupied country’s one-dimensional depiction as a grubby wasteland of violent, greedy lunatics. When viewed in this light, War Inc. is in its way exhibits exactly the sort of message the filmmakers are ostensibly rallying against. Ironically, those of us who share the political views of the filmmakers are likely going to be more annoyed by the film than anybody else. Those who don’t share such views probably won’t care.

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