War, Inc.Directed by Joshua SeftelStarring John Cusack, Marisa Tomei, Joan Cusack and Hilary DuffRated R*6*
Goes well with: Dr. Strangelove, Wag the Dog, M*A*S*H*
Satire works best when it's subtle and as sharp as a razor, sneaking up behind you to make a point that's realized when you're laughing at something that's maybe a little too close for comfort. War, Inc., the new dark comedy that John Cusack stars in and co-wrote, is an anti-war satire for the New World Order, made in the mold of the classic Dr. Strangelove or Wag the Dog. It has flashes of brilliance, parodies that are dead on, but all told it's scattered, tackling too many subjects and ideas—including the Iraq War, the Bush administration, Dick Cheney, Halliburton, Blackwater, the CIA, the media and celebrity worship, to name just a few. It feels as though Cusack and his two co-writers were unable to let go of any joke, so the script ended up overly convoluted and a good 20 pages too long. But even if it doesn't succeed as a cohesive whole, there are some clever jokes, like the corporate tank that flies a GoldenPalace.com ad on its back, for example, or the latest method of embedding reporters.
Cusack is Hauser, a former CIA man who's become an assassin-for-hire and is starting to lose his nerve. If you're thinking that sounds a lot like Martin Blank, the assassin-for-hire who's losing his nerve that Cusack played in Grosse Pointe Blank, well, that makes two of us. But War, Inc. is more global than local.
The former vice president (Cusack's Grosse Pointe Blank buddy, Dan Aykroyd) now runs Tamerlane, a corporation that currently occupies the Middle Eastern nation Turaqistan in the world's first wholly privatized war. Wanting to maximize the business potential in that war-torn region, Hauser is sent to assassinate Omar Sharif. No, not the actor—an oil executive hell-bent on cutting into Tamerlane's profits. For his cover, he's sent to the Emerald City (not the Green Zone) to portray the director of a new trade show celebrating Brand U.S.A., whose centerpiece will be the very public wedding of Central Asia's biggest pop star, Yonica Babyyeah (Hilary Duff, sporting an unreliable, unidentifiable accent), who's marrying the scion of a wealthy Arab family. Along the way, Hauser has to contend with Yonica's come-ons; Turaqistan's newly appointed and unidentified viceroy (who communicates from a secure location, of course); a local video crew that's equally into snuff films, porno flicks, and ransoms; his own fading commitment to world domination; and a left-wing reporter (Marisa Tomei), whom he's interested in and who is only interested in taking him down.
Got all that? Probably not, because like the war it lampoons, there's too much to follow, and more often than not, the satirical swipes at our own perpetual war culture are too broad. War, Inc. is funny, but it feels like it started as a terrific idea and ended up going off in too many directions. Sure, the loose ends are eventually tied together, but it feels as though there may not have been an exit strategy in place when they started shooting. And there's plenty of shooting in War, Inc., but the true cost of the war is so obscured that when Cusack and Tomei find themselves caught in a Falujah-esque assault, the pain and suffering that accompany the hell that is war is dulled.
Still, while it's not as precise as a surgical bombing strike (at least, you know, on paper), Cusack, director Joshua Seftel and Co. get points for sticking it to the man so hard. Because when it is smart, War, Inc. is very, very smart, and anti-war fans will be excited to see something this timely and satirical in theaters this late in the current administration's lame-ass lame-duck tenure.