Kevin's Review: War, Inc. - A Funny Shell Company
by Kevin Powers
July 2, 2008
Nowadays it's hard to find a film that offers anything one might consider refreshing when it comes to the Iraq War. So much has been done already - and done badly - that mere mention of the subject matter is apt to draw exhausted sighs. Naturally, I approached John Cusack's War, Inc. with the some trepidation. Written, produced and starring Cusack, War, Inc. tries ostensibly to be deft political commentary, but it's really just timely, smiling satire. The story easily loses grip of it's political footing, leaving us to simply enjoy the well-rounded cast - which, in and of itself, still has value.
John Cusack, equipped with his typical black suit and precision-guided whit, is the assassin, Brand Hauser, who has been hired to take out a high-profile target, Omar Sharif (not the real one). Hauser is a questioning assassin who keeps his edge by taking shots of Tabasco. His target lives in a country occupied by the American business Tamerlane, which is owned by the former Vice President of the US (Dan Akroyd). It's obvious that Dick Cheney and Haliburton are clearly in Cusack's cross-hairs. Hauser must pose as a tradeshow producer for Tamerlane to infiltrate the "Emerald City" (aka the Green Zone) and take out Sharif, working alongside his handler, Marsha Dillon, played by Cusack's real-world sister, Joan Cusack.
Pairing the two Cusacks is always a great idea, no matter the plot or setting. Complementing the siblings' hysterical dynamic is the less-funny (but still entertaining) Marisa Tomei, who plays a nosy reporter that Hauser falls for, and the immensely talented Sir Ben Kingsley, serving as Hauser's former mentor. The film's real value is derived from these seasoned pros flexing their satirical, odd-ball sensibilities. Political mockery abounds, but given its hyperbolic nature (e.g. the tradeshow is called Brand USA and the country's name is Turaqistan) and the film's talent, you lose any serious sense of real-world commentary. It might be intriguing to think on the absurdity of a company providing both the weapons for destruction and then the resources for repair, but any intellectual wandering is lost with a blunt, well-placed joke by Joan Cusack. It's fun, but it's not very compelling.
Complicating the movie is its entire sub-plot. In his capacity as tradeshow producer, Hauser must organize a wedding for the "Central Asia Superstar" Yonica Babyyeah (Hilary Duff). Her name is about as funny as she gets. Duff's accent is atrocious, and her Britney Spears-esque marriage storyline is simply uninteresting; that is, of course, until Joan Cusack threatens one of her posse with mace. Again, the comic morsels serve to keep the pace. This presumed sub-plot quickly overtakes the film's focus, which is why War, Inc. is at best a "diet" political commentary. I must say that Kingsley, despite his short screen time, is put in some positively hilarious situations, which itself almost makes the film worthwhile. If it wasn't for the cast, War, Inc. would be a horrible mess of a film. As it stands, the movie puts up enough good jokes to defend itself from truly collapsing, but not enough to maintain any real political presence.