War, Inc.

Simon Versano/First Look Studios
Joshua Seftel/United States 2008

War, Inc. – the sort of colossal misfire that can only come from a lot of talented people giving a terrible idea their all – aims to satirize the ongoing bungling of the Iraq war. It takes particular aim at the no-bid rebuilding contracts granted to Halliburton and other corporations deeply tied to the Bush administration. Instead, this dystopic depiction of the waging of the United States’ first commercially outsourced war collapses amidst a heap of over conceived, underwritten moments.

Co-produced, co-written by and starring John Cusack in full tormented everyman mode, the picture falls victim to murky plotting and an inclination towards random narrative digressions. Cusack plays Brand Hauser, a prolific hitman employed by Tamerlane, a big private company currently fighting a war in Turaqistan, which in the contrast between its sanitized central sector and the outlying devastation recalls Disney World surrounded by the detritus of an atomic explosion. None of what happens makes any tangible sense, though it’s filled with quirks piled upon quirks.

Director Johsua Seftel has his characters tell us all about the film’s unique universe rather than showing it to us himself, which leads to lots of long concentration challenging monologues and an almost total absence of visual or conceptual innovation. Few war movies have ever been so talky, or so reliant on verbal embellishments. After a while, one can’t help but wish for some quiet.

Thus, the production heavily burdens the actors, who collapse under the strain. Only co-star Marisa Tomei emerges unscathed. The same can’t be said for Cusack, who is generally only the right leading man for certain parts; or Hilary Duff, shrill and miscast as a hyperemotional, vampy Middle Eastern teen pop star. Nor can it for Ben Kingsley, who seems bent on sullying his reputation with every new mediocre project. The movie’s skilled performers preen and prance around the set, chewing a lot of scenery in the hope that the ensuing spectacle might distract from the film’s chaotic incoherency. It only makes things worse.

© 2008 Robert Levin. All rights reserved.

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