Movie Review

As a political farce, 'War' is more miss than hit

John Cusack plays a hit man and Hilary Duff is a pop diva from the Caucasus in 'War, Inc.' John Cusack plays a hit man and Hilary Duff is a pop diva from the Caucasus in "War, Inc." (Simon versano/first look studios)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Ty Burr
Globe Staff / June 13, 2008

"War, Inc." falls into the genre of - actually, the genre doesn't have a name. But you've seen this kind of movie before: a stridently "wacky" political/cultural comedy starring every actor in Hollywood who thought it sounded like a good idea over martinis, put across with as much improvised sound, fury, and milling about as possible. All that's missing is coherence. Call it Blunderbuss Satire.

The film's obviously a labor of love for star/co-writer/co-producer John Cusack, though, so points for trying. Points, too, for hiring the 1990s absurdist novelist Mark Leyner ("Et Tu, Babe") to help Cusack and Jeremy Pikser pen this shaggy-dog tale about American intervention in the mythical country of Turakistan.

The film is spurred by the commonly felt sentiment that we're in Iraq for business, rather than humanitarian, purposes. As the title implies, "War, Inc." envisions a war that has been 100 percent outsourced to the Tamerlane Corporation: We bomb so we can rebuild, and anyone willing to sign on the dotted line gets a piece of the action.

That kind of calculus stings, and initially "War, Inc." holds out the promise of inventively blistering farce. Cusack plays Hauser, a Tamerlane hit man dropped into Turakistan to kill a local CEO (Lyubomir Neikov) who has the nerve to be building his own pipeline. As a cover, the killer is organizing a giant entertainment trade show that will culminate in the wedding of Yonica Babyyeah, a Central Asian pop diva.

Yonica is played by - are you ready? - Hilary Duff, bravely and gamely shredding her tweenage credibility as a wild-and-crazy sex kitten from the Caucasus. Duff's acting is meh, but her accent's better, and her attitude's best of all: pouting and raging, she throws herself wholeheartedly into this mess and keeps up with the big boys. (And her line "Nobody cares for my beautiful soul" probably rings truer than we think.)

Yonica has the inexplicable hots for Hauser, but he only has eyes for Natalie Hegalhuzen - oy, those names - a left-leaning reporter played by Marisa Tomei, about whom this reviewer is helplessly biased. So the hit man keeps putting off his hit, to the consternation of Tamerlane's mother-hen corporate proxy (Joan Cusack) and the company's shadowy Viceroy (Ben Kingsley with a cornpone accent).

Here's how viciously on-target "War, Inc." can be: Tamerlane only allows the international media to "experience" the war via the "Implanted Journalist Experience," a combat-o-rama audio-visual theme park ride ("I've been hit!" one reporter yells, slumping in her chair). The fashion model catwalk featuring the company's latest prosthetic limbs is also obscene in the best possible ways.

Yet the movie's shrill and scattershot, too, disgorging every idea that comes into the screenwriters's heads without distinguishing between good and bad. (Have I mentioned Dan Aykroyd phoning in from atop the toilet as the vice president of the United States?) Story developments come and go, curdling before satirical momentum can develop; the sets are cluttered with bit actors and debris; the ever-likable John Cusack coasts through on the enervated fumes of his "Grosse Pointe Blank" role.

The end result is sharper than the 2003 Bob Dylan/Larry Charles fiasco "Masked and Anonymous" but just as entropically "creative." Of this genre, only "Wag the Dog" has managed to channel its anger and tell a story, and that may be because Barry Levinson knows how to focus a feature film by building it up from the script. The director of "War, Inc." is Joshua Seftel, whose work in TV documentaries requires just the opposite: reassembling reality from thousands of found moments.

The question remains, for Cusack and others: How do you make consciousness-raising entertaining? How do you rouse the slumbering multiplex beast to action? "War, Inc." fires off dozens of lethal dialogue squibs like "War is the improvement of investments using other means," but it doesn't connect them into anything that can truly rattle an audience's complacency. It's a work of passive-aggressive political fury.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr For more on movies, go to

War, Inc.

Directed by: Joshua Seftel

Written by: Mark Leyner, Jeremy Pikser, John Cusack

Starring: John Cusack, Marisa Tomei, Hilary Duff, Joan Cusack,

Dan Aykroyd, Ben Kingsley

At: Kendall Square, Waltham Embassy

Running time: 107 minutes

Rated: R (violence, language, brief sexual material, Lizzie McGuire as a Central Asian sex kitten)

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