Sadly, subtlety is a lost art among the privileged denizens of Hollywood.
This means that as a result, sometimes when we seek entertainment, even when we know we might not agree with the message, we are instead disappointed with wasted potential, and bloodied by a point of view that you cannot begin to seriously consider because of the over-the-top delivery so weighed down in cynicism that you cannot even begin to believe that the messenger believes it.
And its a shame, because I wanted to like this movie. I really, really did.
The movie follows Brand Hauser, played by John Cusack, who is a character not unlike Martin Blank of Grosse Pointe Blank. Like Blank, he was trained by the government to be a killer and to eliminate problems. And like Blank, he left government service, but unlike Blank, he went to work for a huge multinational corporation, headed by a former US Vice President, played by Dan Akroyd.
The film opens with a brutal and blatant hit inside a bar in Iqualit. It is clear that Hauser is starting to feel the weight of his demons as he struggles to suppress his emotions about what he does for a living. Before long, he is discussing it with the disembodied voice that comes from the on-star-like device in all of the corporate vehicles he uses.
Hauser’s next gig is “producing” the corporation’s trade show in the capital of Turaqistan so he can get close to and kill Omar Shariff, the country’s President, who is trying to build an oil pipeline through his own country without the “help” of the ubiquitous corporation. On this journey, we are treated to flashbacks which slowly unfold the story of how the hot sauce guzzling hitman came to work for this corporation and walk through life seemingly oblivious to the ridiculous circumstances that surround him.
His mission gets bogged down, despite the best efforts of his right hand (wo)man, Melissa Dillon, played by Joan Cusack. He soon finds himself distracted by a comely leftist reporter, played by Marissa Tomei, and a middle-eastern pop-starlet played by Hillary Duff, both of whom start to turn Hauser around to face his many demons head on. Yes, you’re right to think that this sounds very similar to Grosse Pointe Blank. But frankly, it is nowhere near as good.
The problem is that WAR INC is so wrapped up in shrieking paranoia about the “military-industrial complex”, that it pushes the storytelling aside so that it can preach to you, and it doesn’t even succeed at that, because the story itself is so very unbelievable. The movie succeeds when Cusack and the other scriptwriters let the characters be human. One resonant moment was when Hauser finally lures his target to a hotel room, thinking he will get a chance to bed the beautiful reporter, but finds himself on the wrong end of Hauser’s gun and takes a moment to wax poetic about the situation.
Ah Hauser, love does get one into difficult situations. We’re in a constant state of war, Hauser. We kill our brothers, complete strangers, the guilty and the innocent. We are at war with our own hearts. Love is a cease-fire that’s destined to fail. But, as I said, it does get us into tricky situations… sometimes the back of a garbage truck.
This movie has some genuinely funny and touching scenes, and some of the clever dialogue that you might expect from Cusack playing a hitman. But it falls short of being anywhere near as good because where Blank walked away and reclaimed his soul, Hauser became human again, and did nothing with it. There was no redemption and the characters were all callously thrown away after the sermon was completed. Every bit of the story was too outrageous to be believable, whereas anyone who grew up in the 80s and felt alienated could identify with Martin Blank.
WAR INC is what happens when people who act for a living want to become political moralists. If you want to see an enteraining film about a hitman, put Grosse Pointe Blank in your DVD player, and spare yourself the wasting of approximately 2 hours.
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