Serious dramas about the Iraq war thus far have been total bombs, so it seems John Cusack thought a comedy might do the trick. Sadly, War, Inc. is even worse than a stuffy, self-important drama—it’s a stuffy, self-important satire that has no idea how unfunny it is.
Cusack, who also co-wrote the screenplay, plays Brand Hauser, a mercenary by trade who is hired by Tamerane, the Halliburton-esque corporation that is staging its own war in the Middle Eastern country of Turaqistan. In order for things to work though, Hauser needs to kill Omar Sharif—the CEO of a rival company in the country, not the actor.
Hauser, like any good assassin, has a dark past, which involves a dead wife and bad blood with a U.S. government employee (Ben Kingsley, doing a ridiculous American accent) and “big brother” figure to the newly invaded Turaqistan. Hauser repeatedly takes shots of Tabasco to numb the pain, but other than that, the “dark past” is pretty much tacked on to give the illusion of character.
To cover up his secret operation, Hauser is posing as the director of a trade show in Turaqistan, where the brand on display is “Brand USA.” The centerpiece of the trade show is a wedding between Middle Eastern pop star Yonica Babyyeah (Hilary Duff, playing a character whose name is the best thing about the movie) and her lousy boyfriend. Investigating the whole thing though is a nosy journalist (Marisa Tomei) who, wouldn’t you know it, might have eyes for Hauser.
War, Inc. feels like a comedy that would have been made five years ago, when the most despicable thing about the Iraq war was the level of the corporate involvement, rather than the inexcusable casualties that have occurred or flat-out lies that got us there to begin with. To have an action movie, complete with a machine gun-wielding finale, set in a country even remotely resembling Iraq feels insanely disrespectful, especially given that Cusack’s last movie was the heartfelt, Iraq-themed drama Grace is Gone.
So lost within its own ideas of satire and its own ridiculous plot, War, Inc. never really figures out anything to say, and instead substitutes explosions and double-crosses for actual substance. It’s the kind of movie where you start nodding off even when people are constantly yelling and shooting guns. It’s the kind of movie that gets kicked around for two years on the release schedule before being unceremoniously dumped in theaters. It’s the kind of movie that the Tribeca Film Festival, for some mysterious reason, still chose to unleash on moviegoers.