- The Washington Times - Friday, June 27, 2008

It’s easy to see what director Joshua Seftel and star John Cusack were going for with “War, Inc.” Antiwar film after antiwar film has bombed at the box office, but they were all downers (including Mr. Cusack’s own groaner, “Grace Is Gone”). What’s the one antiwar film from a previous generation that everyone loves? “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.”

Perhaps satire could teach the lessons about Iraq that Hollywood so desperately wants its viewers to learn.

For an hour or so, Mr. Seftel and Mr. Cusack turn out an interesting, darkly humorous product. The invasion, occupation and rebuilding of war-on-terror target Turaqistan has been outsourced by the U.S. government to Tamerlane, a privately funded company with its own army, air force and navy. Think Blackwater if Blackwater were the size of the entire U.S. military and joined forces with Halliburton.

Working for Tamerlane is hit man and former CIA agent Brand Hauser (Mr. Cusack), on assignment to take out a meddlesome Arab businessman and on guard against Natalie Hegalhuzen (Marisa Tomei), a left-wing journalist intent on exposing the crimes of his bosses. Thrown into the mix is Central Asian pop star Yonica Babyyeah (Hilary Duff), set to be married to the son of a prominent Turaqi.





The imagery and allusions come fast and heavy - in an homage to “Strangelove,” billboards promoting “Democracy Light” cigarettes dot the base; Dan Aykroyd plays a Cheneyesque former vice president in charge of Tamerlane. The humor is heavy-handed, perhaps, but consistently chuckle-inducing.

The movie unravels in the third act, however, for two reasons.

First is the shift in tone. “War, Inc.” transforms from a precise satire taking a scalpel to the absurdities of the war on terror to a bludgeoning sledgehammer. The tonal shift is most apparent when, stumbling amongst the ruins of a war-torn city outside the Green Zone, Hauser and Hegalhuzen witness a Black Hawk helicopter viciously gun down a crowd of Turaqi civilians. It’s obvious that Mr. Seftel and Mr. Cusack wanted to expose “the horrors of war,” but it’s simply too dark - the horror needs to be implied, not shoved in our faces.

The second problem is with the characters’ motivations: Hauser becomes too conflicted, Babyyeah unnecessarily complex. For a satire to work, the characters need to be archetypal true believers. In “Dr. Strangelove,” the characters were cardboard cutouts; the silliness of their personae and the strength of their convictions are key to the film’s lasting power. Neither internal conflict nor overt brutality have a place in this kind of satire.

★★

TITLE: “War, Inc.”

RATING: R (Violence, language and brief sexual material)

CREDITS: Directed by Joshua Seftel, written by Mark Leyner, Jeremy Pikser, and John Cusack

RUNNING TIME: 107 minutes

WEB SITE: www.firstlookstudios. com/films/warincb

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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