You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

War, Inc.

Name cast featuring Cusack, Marisa Tomei, Ben Kingsley and Hilary Duff will mean something, but word of mouth will be poisonous.

Hauser - John Cusack Yonica Babyyeah - Hilary Duff Natalie Hegalhuzen - Marisa Tomei Marsha Dillon - Joan Cusack Walken - Ben Kingsley Mr. Vice President - Dan Aykroyd Omar Sharif - Lyubomir Neikov

If there’s anything to be learned from “War, Inc.,” it’s about the shelf life of satire, and how parody simply can’t be too plausible. A blackly comic take on the first totally outsourced war? We’re too close to being in one right now, which makes this John Cusack vehicle too close for comfort. It’s also so close to being funny you can just about taste it — just about. Name cast featuring Cusack, Marisa Tomei, Ben Kingsley and Hilary Duff will mean something, but word of mouth will be poisonous. Already playing in select Toronto theaters, pic opens May 23 Stateside.

In what was obviously a project near and dear to Cusack’s heart, the actor (who also co-scripted and produced) plays Hauser, the classic troubled hitman (see “Grosse Pointe Blank”) who drowns his sorrows with straight shots of hot sauce. (The label of one, Napalm Girl, features a silhouette of the famous Vietnam-era photo of the girl running naked from her napalmed village. So we’re not exactly talking Noel Coward here.)

Hauser has been assigned by the former U.S. vice president (Dan Aykoryd, who plays one of his two scenes from a toilet) to kill Omar Sharif (Lyubomir Neikov), oil minister of the fictional Turaqistan, where the ex-VP’s company, Tamerlane, has been fighting insurgents. Governments aren’t really involved, just corporations — and hired assassins.

The names are among the funnier things in the film. Hilary Duff plays Yonica Babyyeah, an insufferably spoiled Turaqistani pop star; Marisa Tomei is lefty reporter Natalie Hegalhuzen (an obvious spoof of Katrina vanden Heuvel, lefty publisher of the Nation). Aykroyd is so obviously Dick Cheney that any name play would be redundant. But Cusack’s contact at Tamerlane HQ? Marsha Dillon (Joan Cusack), the funniest person in the entire Mideast.

In Turaqistan, Hauser goes undercover as organizer of the Brand USA Trade Show, an exercise in tackiness whose centerpiece is Yonica’s wedding. Hauser keeps trying to take out Omar, with no success, and in the interim has to deal not just with Yonica’s posse of wannabe gangstas, but also Turaqistani insurgents with their own agendas. Some of the more exhilarating scenes involve secret agent Cusack dispatching bad guys with guns, clubs and kung fu.

“War, Inc.” feels a little bit like a ’60s comedy that would have starred Alan Arkin; now, it seems too late. Of course, so would “Wag the Dog” if it came out now. But that film’s timing was much better, and its jokes weren’t quite as obscure, or its timing so off.

Helmer Joshua Seftel has worked almost exclusively in nonfiction prior to “War Inc.” — he made the first-rate “Taking on the Kennedys” in 1996 — so his lack of comedic instinct is perhaps understandable. But even jokes that might have worked otherwise get swallowed up by dialogue, or simply aren’t allowed the breathing room necessary to evoke a laugh.

War, Inc.

Production: A First Look Studios (in U.S.)/VVS Films (in Canada) release of a Millennium Films presentation of a New Crimes production. Produced by Les Weldon, Danny Lerner, John Cusack, Grace Loh. Executive producers, Avi Lerner, Boaz Davidson, Danny Dimbort, Trevor Short. Co-producers, Dough Dearth, Katsu J.J. Yoshida. Directed by Joshua Seftel. Screenplay, Mark Leyner, Jeremy Pikser, John Cusack.

Crew: Camera (color), Zoran Popovic; editor, Michael Berenbaum; music, David Robbins; production designer, Miljen "Kreka" Kljakovic; costume designer, Vicki Graef; casting, Victoria Thomas. Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (Spotlight), April 29, 2008. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 106 MIN.

With: Hauser - John Cusack Yonica Babyyeah - Hilary Duff Natalie Hegalhuzen - Marisa Tomei Marsha Dillon - Joan Cusack Walken - Ben Kingsley Mr. Vice President - Dan Aykroyd Omar Sharif - Lyubomir Neikov

More Film

  • 'Curse of La Llorona' Tops International

    'Curse of La Llorona' Tops International Box Office With $30 Million

    Warner Bros. and New Line’s “The Curse of La Llorona” led the way at the international box office, summoning $30 million when it opened in 71 foreign markets. The supernatural thriller collected $26.5 million in North America for a global start of $56.5 million. “La Llorona,” based on the Mexican folklore about the Weeping Woman, [...]

  • Box Office: 'Curse of La Llorona'

    Box Office: 'Curse of La Llorona' Wins Worst Easter Weekend in Over a Decade

    Warner Bros. and New Line’s “The Curse of La Llorona” ascended to the top of domestic box office charts, conjuring $26.5 million when it opened in 3,372 North American theaters. “La Llorona” is the latest horror movie to outperform expectations, further cementing the genre as one of the most reliable box office draws. Even so, [...]

  • FX's 'Snowfall' Panel TCA Winter Press

    John Singleton Hospitalized After Suffering Stroke

    UPDATED with statements from John Singleton’s family and FX Networks John Singleton, the Oscar nominated director and writer of “Boyz N’ the Hood,” has suffered a stroke. Sources confirm to Variety that Singleton checked himself into the hospital earlier this week after experiencing pain in his leg. The stroke has been characterized by doctors as [...]

  • 'Curse of La Llorona' Leads Slow

    'Curse of La Llorona' Leads Slow Easter Weekend at the Box Office

    New Line’s horror pic “The Curse of La Llorona” will summon a solid $25 million debut at the domestic box office, leading a quiet Easter weekend before Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame” hits theaters on April 26. The James Wan-produced “La Llorona,” playing in 3,372 theaters, was a hit with hispanic audiences, who accounted for nearly 50% [...]

  • Jim Jarmusch in 'Carmine Street Guitars'

    Film Review: 'Carmine Street Guitars'

    “Carmine Street Guitars” is a one-of-a-kind documentary that exudes a gentle, homespun magic. It’s a no-fuss, 80-minute-long portrait of Rick Kelly, who builds and sells custom guitars out of a modest storefront on Carmine Street in New York’s Greenwich Village, and the film touches on obsessions that have been popping up, like fragrant weeds, in [...]

  • Missing Link Laika Studios

    ‘Missing Link’ Again Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Annapurna Pictures claims the top spot in spending for the second week in a row with “Missing Link.” Ads placed for the animated film had an estimated media value of $5.91 million through Sunday for [...]

  • Little Woods

    Film Review: 'Little Woods'

    So much of the recent political debate has focused on the United States’ southern border, and on the threat of illegal drugs and criminals filtering up through Mexico. But what of the north, where Americans traffic opiates and prescription pills from Canada across a border that runs nearly three times as long? “Little Woods” opens [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content