War, Inc

cast: John Cusack, Hilary Duff, Ben Kingley, Marisa Tomei, and Joan Cusack

director: Joshua Seftel

102 minutes (15) 2008
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Lions Gate DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 3/10
reviewed by Jim Steel

Oh, John Cusack, what have you done? For you must take responsibility for this train wreck. You’re the star as well as being a co-producer and co-writer. You’ve also cast your sister in an important supporting role, which has the viewer nervously worried about a highly inappropriate romantic possibility until Joan appears doing such a twitching-eyed loon act that no-one would consider touching her. However, this may have just been a diversion to draw attention away from a relationship between two of the other characters of such jaw-dropping wrongness that the film is impossible to watch twice. I am only trying not to reveal it out of some (no-doubt) misguided loyalty towards the art of writing, but it derails the whole of the film.

And I really should love this film. It attacks the whole neo-con global philosophy with such vigour that it shows that its heart is obviously in the right place; right place, but wrong time. If it had been released in, say, 2002, then it might have been relevant, but it was released in 2008 when it was already merely a historical curiosity.

Brand Hauser (John Cusack) is a former CIA hitman who now works for Tamerlane, a Cheneyesque private-security company modelled on the likes of Blackwater. He is sent into Turaqistan to assassinate a hapless government minister who happens to be called Omar Sharif (Lubomir Neikov), one of several characters named, for no good reason, after film stars. Turaquistan (played by Bulgaria) is an amalgam of several countries, but the mix of nationalities comes across as clumsy and it even borders on racism on occasion. Tamerlane is setting up an arms show and arranging for the marriage of local over-sexed popstar Yonica Babyyeah (Hilary Duff) to the son of a local bigwig.

Hauser also becomes involved with reporter Natalie Hegalhuzen (Marisa Tomei) who is obsessed with finding out what is really happening in Turaqistan, unlike the rest of the news pool who are quite happy experiencing the VR simulation of news that Tamerlane lays on for them. Hauser is haunted by his past, which includes his dealing with his former CIA boss, Walken (Ben Kingsley taking a southern drawl for a walk), and he has developed an addiction to drinking raw Tabasco. This is not quirky; it’s just silly. It’s hard to tell if many of the jokes weren’t funny in the first place, or whether they have been flattened by being filmed a beat out.

There are plenty of cameos scattered throughout War, Inc. Dan Aykroyd plays a man with no shame (he’s quite happy to take part in a video conference while sitting on the toilet): a former Vice President who is now one of the head honchos in Tamerlane. Montel Williams plays a disembodied voice that speaks to Hauser from radios. Is he an aide, or a psychiatrist? Damned if I can tell. John McLaughlin, former speechwriter for Nixon and now right-wing talking head, plays himself with no apparent irony. Maybe he saw the script and figured that no-one was going to watch this. And Bill Cusack’s in it briefly as well, and why not?

Also included are a handful of trailers for more successful films, and a 12-minute behind-the-scenes hagiography where a couple of the actors have the decency to look mildly embarrassed by the whole thing.