We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Somewhere between the bombast of Southland Tales and laziness of Military Intelligence and You! lies War, Inc., an Iraq satire being released past the point when discussing the occupation has become wearying and parodying it a slow-target yawn. With John Cusack producing, co-writing, and starring, it’s a bit surprising that this film tends toward Southland Tales’ hit-’em-over-the-head approach to lampoonery, its uninteresting characters and general lack of humor ensuring the gambit gets old fast. Cusack plays Brand Hauser, an assassin sent to one war-torn Turaqistan to disappear a local businessman who plans to dip his drills into America’s oil profits. The hilarious twist? Corporations, not the government, maintain militia now, and a company run by a former vice president (Dan Aykroyd, introduced sitting on a toilet) has monopolized the rebuilding of the very country it destroyed. So Hauser, in the guise of a trade-show organizer, arrives in the Middle East to find a war zone plastered in billboards shilling products such as Democracy Light cigarettes or goodwill assurances such as “We’re building happiness!” while screens project morphing images of American icons. Hauser is aided by operative Marsha Dillon (Joan Cusack, flailing to inject life into her character with odd, twitchy gestures and monsterishly tight expressions worthy of a Botox junkie), dogged by left-wing reporter Natalie Hegalhuzen (Marisa Tomei, a relatively calming presence), and flummoxed by his uneasy reaction to meeting the “Britney Spears of Central Asia,” Yonica Babyyeah (Hilary Duff, actually sporting a decent accent). He’s supposed to help organize Yonica’s wedding to a gangsta-wannabe prince while simultaneously hunting down his target, Omar Sharif (Lyubomir Neikov)—yes, the shots are that low—guzzling hot sauce all the while, because Hauser wouldn’t be a Cusack creation without some sort of eccentricity. Directed by documentarian Joshua Seftel, War, Inc. doesn’t quite know what story it wants to tell: The focus shifts from commentary on American arrogance to Hauser’s dark past to the commercial whoring of Yonica, with the latter two eventually converging. (Ben Kingsley, always fascinating, is part of Hauser’s secrets, but his presence is unredeeming.) Considering that Yonica’s character is actually the most interesting here, that’s not in itself a bad thing. But when the denouement includes Duff enthusiastically laying waste with a machine gun, the film is no longer a political comedy but merely an obnoxious one.