WAR DOGS is based on the true story of Efraim Diveroli and David Packouz, as written by Guy Lawson in a Rolling Stone article and his subsequent book, and it presents a wonky fictionalisation that doesn't know whether its wants to be a comedy or a legitimate drama. It also marks director Todd Phillips (Road Trip, The Hangover) first venture outside of the lowbrow comedy genre which, naturally, puts him in depths that he can barely stand in.
With that said, the film is far from disastrous and it boasts some genuinely effective details, such as convincing foreign production designs and confident performances from the players. And yet it lacks cohesion. The character dynamics have very little symmetry and the overriding narrative is flat and lifeless. Attempts are made to liven the proceedings with upbeat pop songs and slow-motion action sequences, but those songs are misplaced and those sequences are contrived. The result is a laboured attempt to make a true story “cool” (“Gangsta” comes to mind) featuring two lead actors who deserve better.
WAR DOGS wont be hitting the bottom of many 'best-of' lists this year but it's highly unlikely to register at the top either. Instead it should find itself nestled comfortably in the middle, having left very little impact and being received by most people as 'passable'. Perhaps that's enough for some, but it doesn't quite cut it with me. Had Phillips taken a more serious and concentrated approach to the story he might well have found himself wrapped up in the awards season, and proven himself to be a multifaceted filmmaker. My advice would be to make OLD SCHOOL 2 (it's what he does best).
It was quite the thrill-ride, told with such spark and verv, and frankly, it was something the likes of which we hadn't seen outside of our PlayStations. It was only a matter of time before someone gave BMF first time director Ilya Naishuller some coin to extrapolate the gimmick into a feature film.
Now, 3-years later, we have HARDCORE HENRY a vertigo-inducing, fish-eye excursion into gimmick-fueled pandemonium. Pick your cliche to describe it; full-throttle, high-octane, pedal-to-the-metal, nitro-fuelled, whatever, they're all suitable. HARDCORE HENRY is a 90-minute action sequence, pure and simple.
Too simple, actually - It's like playing a first person shooter in which you have no control but all the frustration when the hero doesn't do what you want him to. Control is completely out of your hands. You're just asked to strap in and try and enjoy, but how much you enjoy will depend on what you are looking for in an action film. If it's complex characters, nuanced performance and life-aspiring messages (and before you say 'what action film does that anyway!?', here's to you, Three Kings) buddy...you are in the wrong place.
Plot goes like this, our hero, Henry, wakes up on a sky-ship (no, no, stay with me here...) above Moscow, resurrected from death with some cybernetic enhancements, escapes a telekinetic albino megalomaniac who wants to create an army of supersoldiers, plummets to earth, teams up with body-jumping deus ex machina character Jimmy (Sharlto Copley) and saves the world and the girl and blah blah blah.
HH is just BMF with a budget; same story, same gimmicks, same mute protagonist kicked into the realm of hyper hyperbole, but unlike BMF, HH gets very tiresome after about 8-minutes.
Dreadfully there's another 82-minutes after that. The film's biggest problem is that due to its gimmicky, motion-sickness-inducing format we never feel like we're part of the narrative. There's an odd disconnection with the audience that is never fully rectified and as a result we always feel at arms length from the carnage occurring on screen. Because we're never privy to the protagonists idiosyncrasies and behaviours it's a charmless and head-smackingly violent 90-minutes in which it's hard to relate to anything going on.
Coupled with the fact it feels like we're watching someone else play a video game (giving us a third level of disconnection...a film imitating a game imitating real life) and HH is an exhausting experience.
It's not all bad, however. There is no denying Naishuller's technical prowess. Shot almost exclusively on GoPro Hero 3 cameras, the films inventive action sequences are, at times, wondrous to behold (a one-take leap from a high-rise roof and a shootout on a highway over a half dozen trucks are standouts) though never original enough to recall by the time the final credits roll. Except for the dance sequence that seems to be lifted from the Neveldine/ Taylor (and far superior) Gamer...you'll remember that for the sheer nerve of the plagiarism on show.
Naishuller, it turns out, was responsible for his own undoing. Thanks to his Bad Motherfucker video clip we've seen most of the good stuff Hardcore Henry has to offer and this is another case of less is most definitely more.