The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and in the case of John Cusack
's over-the-top satire of the Iraq War, War, Inc., the intentions are obvious and the road leads to a particular place in Hell presided over by filmmakers (Stanley Kramer resides on the throne there) who want to fight the good fight but use a two-by-four pounded into the back of a viewer's head to emphasize the obvious. As writer/producer/star of War, Inc. Cusack wants to make a statement about the venality of the United States' involvement in Iraq and wants to make that statement in the worst way. And, unfortunately, he does. Cusack attempts to reconceive the hit man premise of Grosse Point Blank as a lacerating and biting political satire in the vein of Dr. Strangelove or Wag the Dog. Unfortunately, the end result is more along the lines of those disastrous, live-action cartoonish romps of the stinky 1960s vintage a la John Goldfarb, Please Come Home.
As in Grosse Point Blank, Cusack plays a world-weary hit man, Brand Hauser, who works for a Halliburton-inspired international corporation that has just completed a contract on the first 100-percent outsourced war in the fictional Middle Eastern country of Turaqistan. The head honcho of the corporation is the ex-Vice President (Dan Akyroyd
on a toilet) who orders Hauser into Turaqistan to assassinate the chief Turaqistani minister, Omar Sharif (Lyubomir Neikov). Omar plans to one-up the corporation by installing his own oil pipeline in competition, and the corporation will have none of that. Hauser arrives under cover as the head of the Brand USA Trade Show, where he is responsible for a big gala extravaganza starring Yonica Babyyeah (Hilary Duff
in a change of pace role as a sexy, slutty Britney Spears clone; at one point she moans pointedly after dropping a scorpion down her pants). Also on hand in Turaqistan is Natalie Hegalhuzen (Marisa Tomei
), a Nation-esque reporter who immediately rubs Hauser the wrong way. Could this be love? Article continues below
First-time director Joshua Seftel
over-stirs this burlesque brew and flattens out the fizz. Both Seftel and Cusack keep looking over their shoulders making sure to mine the tale for heart and soft touches to counteract the nastiness. But for any lacerating satire to work, the filmmakers can't make nice and be afraid of offending anyone -- they have to square their jaws and drive headlong through the fiery cacophony. There is no denying the passion, but Cusack/Steftel can't see the forest for the trees. When the story develops, it is not so much about Turaqistan but about Hauser and Natalie falling in love and Yonica (in a head-revolving plot twist) reinventing herself as a child in a nuclear family (when Yonica sings "I'm Gonna Blow You Up," she does, but not in a violent sense, more like Ozzie and Harriet).
War, Inc. hums in the throwaway moments that should have been the main event -- tanks barrel down war ravaged streets advertising Popeye's Fried Chicken, a kick line of double amputees kick up their prosthetics to "New York, New York," a hooded cab driver has a photo ID also with a hood over his face, reporters partake of a Turaqistan War theme park ride to experience brutal combat the Disney World way. But the film constantly diverges from what is wants to be and gets wound up in nonsensical subplots (a plot to sell a video of Yonica's wedding night; details on Hauser's past) that devolve into a grab-bag free-for-all conclusion that would make the most politically liberal viewer turn reactionary.