June 19, 2008

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War, Inc. (R)
In some not-too-distant future, some not-too-imaginary country (Turaqistan) is being invaded and policed by an army entirely under the control of the corporation Tamerlane, headed by a not-too-unCheney-like former American vice president in War, Inc., an eyerollingly over-the-top political satire that has its moments.

Brand Hauser (John Cusack) is a killer for hire for Tamerlane, the Halliburton-on-steroids monster the movie creates to give us a corporation with superpower status. After one job (and one shot of fortifying hot sauce — liquor would be too tame for our jaded little anti-hero) in the Artic, he heads to the recently invaded Turaqistan, where Tamerlane’s armies are fighting an insurgent force in an attempt to bring democracy and the need for expensive development projects to this neck of the world. Even in this age of outsourced war, Hauser is a cut above — sort of a contract CIA agent. His cover will be that of a trade show manager for American businesses looking to dig for cash in the Turaqistan quagmire but his real job will be looking for a chance to assassinate a political muckety-muck (for some reason that’s really not worth remembering).

Once in country, however, Hauser finds his work more difficult than he had suspected. First he meets Natalie Hegalhuzen (Marisa Tomei), a journalist looking for the real story of Turaqistan, and then he meets Yonica Babyyeah (Hilary Duff), a regional pop star planning a big trashy wedding at the trade show. Hauser is intrigued by Natalie’s determination and possibly by the fact that she’s cute. He’s appalled by Yonica’s apparent willingness to sell her soul so cheaply and quickly develops paternal urges to save her.

War, Inc. is preachy and unsubtle and very self-indulgent on the part of John Cusack and yet in spite of itself I kind of enjoyed it. Not completely, but kind of, in its small moments more than its big “oh geez” plot. Scenes of reporters — no longer imbeds but now implanted with a combat-experience-enhancing chip — lining up to ride the simulated combat ride are quite funny and a solid if silly bit of criticism of war reporting. The Britney/Lindsey/Paris/any subject of My Super Sweet Sixteen-like Yonica is mostly cartoonish, a caricature with no real dimension, but there are moments of her awfulness that make for funny little parodies of modern sex-soaked pop.

War, Inc. wants so badly to be important that it often forgets to be funny. Look hard enough, however, in the requisite Joan Cusack supporting role or the ever-morphing, screen-saver-like icon visual standing in for some hidden government puppet master (John Wayne, Ronald Regan, Pamela Anderson, a dolphin), and you’ll find enough savory little bits to make the experience worthwhile. C+

Rated R for violence, language and brief sexual material. Directed by Joshua Seftel and written by Mark Leyner, Jeremy Pikser and John Cusack, War, Inc. is an hour and 46 minutes long and is distributed in limited release by First Look Studios.