Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here. THE FOLLOWING IS A CORRECTED INTRODUCTION, REPLACING THE INCORRECT INFORMATION ORIGINALLY HERE: WAR INC may have hit theaters in Canada last week, but it's actually opening in New York and LA on May 23. It played the Tribeca Film Festival a few nights ago as well. What Vern saw was, evidently, not a screener for the DVD release, but simply a screener for this theatrical release. John Cusack's on the publicity trail for this one now, too, doing everything from Jimmy Kimmel to Al Jazeera. I'm hoping to take a look at this release from First Look ASAP. Are you guys as curious about this one as I am?
As an aficionado of DTV I've exposed myself to many works from the Millennium Films library, films starring the likes of Van Damme, Seagal, Snipes, Jai White, Timberlake, etc. I'm talking about movies like THE ORDER, UNDISPUTED 1-2, OUT FOR A KILL, UNSTOPPABLE, TODAY YOU DIE, EDISON FORCE, MERCENARY FOR JUSTICE, UNTIL DEATH and the DAY OF THE DEAD "remake." They're the kings of crap - kind of like the new Cannon Films except they don't have as many fluke good ones under their belt as Cannon did. They've made it to the big screen every once in a while which is how we got THE BLACK DAHLIA, THE WICKER MAN and some of those shitty Al Pacino movies that have been coming out lately. I'm obviously biased on the Seagal pictures so let's just say the closest they've ever gotten to a great movie is RAMBO. So I was surprised to see their logo at the beginning of John Cusack's new satire WAR, INC. I guess that explains why this movie that I thought was coming to theaters already has a DVD screener available. (Apparently it's playing right now in Toronto, New York and LA next month, then straight to DVD July 1st.) The movie does have some of the Millennium Films feel here and there but it's actually a pretty good one, a much more competent shot at making some of the points that were fumbled in LORD OF WAR and the awe-inspiringly god awful tsunami of directorial over confidence that was SOUTHLAND TALES. Cusack plays Hauser, an ex-CIA assassin now working for Tamerlane, a private security firm headed by the recently-cleared-of-all-charges ex-vice president of the United States (Dan Aykroyd mixing some Nixon into a Cheney imitation). Hauser's new assignment is to take out a head of state named Omar Sharif (not played by Omar Sharif though, I didn't really get this joke). Hauser enters the Green Zone of occupied-Turaqistan undercover as the producer of a trade show bringing democracy and American technology to this devastated war zone. But before he does the hit he starts questioning the ethics of it due to his encounters with a left wing journalist (Marisa Tomei) and a central-Asian pop star named Yonica Babyyeah (Hilary Duff). Shit, typing out that last sentence I realize how much this does sound on paper like SOUTHLAND TALES, but the difference is it has some story in there and the satirical ideas are much more focused and accurate. True, lumping in a parody of young sexualized pop stars with an attack on war profiteering is a little SPY HARD for my tastes but at least you can make heads or tales out of it. And having Duff play the character is a little more meaningful than stunt casting. On one hand she's not a good enough actress to pull off the accent. On the other hand, having an actual Disney Channel child star turned skanky pop singer in the role kind of shows how true it is. This is the "culture" we are exporting around the world and it's not that big of a stretch to imagine some day the bride of Middle Eastern royalty will be rolling with an entourage of Ali G type douchebags or dancing around on stage pretending to suck off a gas pump. (SPECIAL SPOILER SECTION: It's also funny at the end when she turns out to be his missing daughter and he is devastated - in most movies she would've been sold into white slavery or would've died of a drug overdose but in this one the villain fucks over the hero by teaching his daughter to act like a hoe and sing terrible songs.) To be honest I think it's a little late for this movie - it would've been fist-pumpingly subversive early in the war when people weren't paying as much attention, but now it's kind of commonly agreed upon that this is the deal. So I don't think it's gonna change any minds. But as a gallows humor portrait of the madness of corporate war profiteering it's a good one. Tamerlane follows the Halliburton philosophy of getting paid to blow shit up and then getting paid to fix it up again. One of their products is a prosthetic leg made from some of the same technology that was used to blow off people's legs in the first place. They show off this product by teaching a group of amputees to dance like The Rockettes. There's alot of funny/creepy ideas like this, my favorite being the Star Tours type movie ride for journalists to experience battle (the next step after embedded journalists I guess). Also you gotta love Hauser's meeting with "The Viceroy" which starts with him jumping over the counter at a front Popeye's Chicken and ends with him in a room speaking to a TV image morphing between American icons like John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, Flipper and Hulk Hogan. I guess maybe this is supposed to be a little bit in the future, but not much. There's a funny joke about that in the beginning. Like some fantasy or post-apocalypse movie it starts with text: "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." Hard to imagine such a far out sci-fi concept, huh? I wouldn't say the movie is hilarious but it has alot of funny ideas in it. For example I liked that Hauser's closest confidant seems to be the OnStar service in his private jet (and I didn't even know until the credits that the voice on the other side was Montel Williams). If you've never heard of this movie you may be wondering if it's supposed to be connected to Cusack's other hitman movie GROSSE POINTE BLANK. Cusack is not playing the same character in name or backstory, but otherwise it could be. He's another black suit wearing, fast talking, cynical, troubled, lonely motherfucker who happens to kill for a living and can kick the shit out of people when he wants to. Once again he has his sister Joan as his assistant/secretary and there is the reappearance of Aykroyd. The style of action is pretty similar too - it's mostly a comedy, but when violence erupts it's fast and harsh and Cusack is convincing. I really like the fights in this movie and there's a funny action idea I don't think I've seen before. It's the old classic where during a gun fight a guy who doesn't have a gun challenges him to fight hand-to-hand instead, and of course out of some kind of honor or competitive spirit he accepts. But then instead of pulling his clip out and throwing his gun down like they usually do he keeps it in his hand the whole time. He just happens to be honorable enough to kickbox the guy without using the gun in his hand. So there are similarities, but as a story and set of characters GROSSE POINTE BLANK is much more successful, because it's easier to relate to. It has the universal high school reunion themes: being depressed about what you've done with your life, nostalgia for old times, questioning your past mistakes, wanting a second chance and all that shit. That's what drives the story in addition to Cusack's character having a moral crisis about murdering somebody. WAR, INC. has much bigger fish to fry so the focus is more on the chaos of this war zone and less on those relatable human things. There's a budding romance and a troubled past and what not but they seem more like movie cliches than real human emotions. So as a story it's a little disconnected and sloppy, but eventually it comes together. And as far as Millennium Films pictures go it almost counts as concise storytelling. I'm not sure without the logo I would've recognized it as one of theirs, although it does feature a troubled ex-CIA badass, is gloomily filmed in Bulgaria somewhere and even features Avid fart flashbacks to traumatic moments from his past. There's also a scene where some aspiring filmatists/kidnappers are watching a Seagal movie (looks like BELLY OF THE BEAST) and commenting that "Seagal is like 600 pounds now" and that he uses body doubles for everything but closeups. So be careful Cusack, you don't want to cross Millennium. I don't know, I'm not saying this would be a big hit movie, and it played fine on the small screen for me. But it's kind of a shame to see it getting dumped unceremoniously like an old couch. At the very least it's a nice try and I think plenty of people will enjoy it. --Vern author of Seagalogy