When they write the book about how American popular cinema processed the Iraq War, Todd Phillips’ comedy will get filed under “War as Wallpaper.” Yeah, the plot — based on real events — takes place during and because of the Iraq War, but it could be any war and nobody’s asking any tough or even interesting questions.
In 2005, a pair of junior-high buddies — brash and amoral Efraim (Jonah Hill) and marginally more moral and low-key David (Miles Teller, also serving as our listless narrator) — search for business opportunities in the endless morass of Pentagon equipment requisitions, now ramped up like crazy because of the war. They get wind of a very big deal — a zillion or so AK-47 bullets are needed. Through a third-party hook-up (Bradley Cooper), the coked-up duo make a deal with the military and fly to Albania, where everything goes great until it goes to shit.
It’s mildly amusing; it’s got a Wolf of Wall Street-lite vibe, complete with manic Hill, classic-rock soundtrack, “arty” freeze-frames and an unabashed celebration of bros-make-money. But any laughs are at the expense of remembering that this war still goes on, and how dipshits like this cost the U.S. taxpayers a fortune, and how we let it all happen because “war is an economy” and “winning” and so on. There is ample space for interrogating war and its assorted moral and economic complexities with humor — indeed, I’d argue strongly for that — but this is just a toothless bit of silliness.