Movie Review: War, Inc.
By Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune Movie Critic
Here's the opening crawl for "War, Inc.," a mordant unofficial sequel to "Grosse Point Blank" reuniting John Cusack with an assassin's gun. "In the 21st century, great corporations will bestride the earth, replacing nations as the true creators of history, amassing powerful private armies to do their bidding." So we're in the near future, in a fictional mash-up country known as "Turaqistan." Cusack, slipping into the role of benumbed corporate hit man, has been dispatched by the former U.S. vice president (Dan Aykroyd) to take out a local pol whose oil pipeline stands in the way of American business interests.
Cusack also co-wrote and co-produced this picture, which throws its hands up at the cynical corruption and merry hypocrisy of it all: the privatized puppet masters of American occupation, the showbiz packaging (a trade show features a chorus line of dancers outfitted with artificial limbs), hungry journalists (Marisa Tomei is very good as a tough liberal cookie modeled on Katrina vanden Heuvel) and ravenous pop stars. Hilary Duff plays Yonica Babyyeah, "the Britney Spears of Central Asia." Cusack's character finds himself torn between Tomei's journalist and the barely legal Yonica, which is one of the many things that feels very '60s about this affair.
"War, Inc." has obvious inspirations, ranging from Terry Southern to Joseph Heller. Yet it is unthinkable without the last two presidential administrations. Director Joshua Seftel has worked in documentaries and so-called reality TV. I can see why Seftel and Cusack wanted to avoid broad caricature; satire, especially political satire, wears out its welcome very quickly when everyone's having too much fun, and the visual landscape is all hyperbole and no truth. But this script bumps along, good ideas jostling with weak, derivative ones, and Seftel doesn't seem to know which way he wants to handle the material. Also, with Cusack playing yet another soul-fried wiseacre running on emotional autopilot, the piece doesn't have much of an engine.
You may, however, stick with it, because "War, Inc." has that provocateur's edge, and it's at least awake to the world around us. So far critics are all over the map, some calling it a liberal polemic with a lot of bitter laughs, others calling it ... well, a liberal polemic without laughs. The truth's in the middle. Will the film look dated in 10 years? The more pertinent question is: How dated will the real war look by then?
MPAA rating: R (for violence, language and brief sexual material).
Running time: 1:46
Starring: John Cusack (Hauser); Hilary Duff (Yonica Babyyeah); Marisa Tomei (Natalie Hegalhuzen); Joan Cusack (Marsha Dillon); Ben Kingsley (Walken); Dan Aykroyd (Mr. Vice President).
Directed by Joshua Seftel; written by Mark Leyner, Jeremy Pikser and John Cusack; photographed by Zoran Popovic; edited by Michael Berenbaum; music by David Robbins; production design by Miljen "Kreka" Kljakovic; produced by Les Weldon, Danny Lerner, John Cusack and Grace Loh. A First Look Studios release.