A very popular from of fiction is the dystopia; a consideration of an imaginary future usually where the situation is far from desirable. This is a rich and fertile format that has yielded some of the greatest examples of literature and cinema in existence. From ‘Brave New World’ to ‘Blade Runner’ this type of story can hold the faults of our society up to the unblinking eye of criticism. Very often this drastic version of the world is used to set the stage for satire. It is a tricky thing to combine these two highly structured formats and often the results can be disastrous. One of the latest films to at least make a try is ‘War, Inc.’. While the movie makes more than its share of mistakes and ultimately does not live up to all the media hype it does have its fun moments. The thing is the film has all the right intensions and has assembled a stellar cast and amore than able staff behind the scenes but is unable to gel. It is like a new recipe from a great chef; occasionally even someone who is a master of his craft tries to do something novel and the ingredients don’t work as anticipated. ‘War, Inc.’ is topical with subject matter ripped from the headlines. With the political situation so up in the air as it happens to be at the moment a political satire should be a natural. Hopefully this collection of talent will brush off the mistakes and try again.
This film did have a rather strange release schedule. In was premiered in April 2008 during the Tribeca Film Festival followed by a limited theatrical release in May and a DVD release in July. Even with the rapid DVD turn around many films now have this is extremely quick but does aptly avoid the stigma of a direct to video release. The film has three credited writers to its name; Mark Leyner, Jeremy Pikser and co-star John Cusack. This is an initial opus for Leyner but his two partners have some notable experience. Pikser worked on the scripts for ‘Reds’, ‘The Lemmon Sisters’ and ‘Bullworth’. The later gave him experience with a political satire and was also authored with the star of the flick. Cusack is best known for his work in front of the camera but has also helped to write screenplays for a couple of flicks he starred in ‘High Fidelity’ and ‘Grosse Pointe Blank’. In many ways Cusack is reviving his character for ‘Grosse Point Blank’, the world worn and disenchanted hit man. The script begins with a strong idea. In the not to distant future the major corporations have stop just influencing governments, they now out right control them. It is basically business as usual with profits the sole motivation for any corporate activities. Having companies in complete control including the army gives a entire new meaning to the term hostile takeover. In 1975 a similar premise was explored with ‘Rollerball’ but in that case the corporations that control the world took their aggressions with an ultra violent sport. Here the methodologies employed are pretty much the same as the governments whose control they supplanted; espionage, assassination and war. Of course if you are in the arms trade war is great for the bottom line profit margin. Having a former Vice President in control of a company like this and the idea of private corporate based armies is not so far fetched when you consider such real life things as Halliburton and Blackwater. Having these aspects in the film does provide a certain sense of reality but the scripts a sharp turn towards reductio de absurdum. It is possible to take on a serious topic in a silly film but more often than not it is a recipe for disaster. If the writers lightened up on the farcical parts of the film and played it as a more straight forward satire the results would potentially have been fantastic. I mean really just look at the character names like Omar Sharif and Yonica Babyyeah. The first is a bad reference to a great actor and the other sounds like a teen bopper Bond girl.
The film was directed by Joshua Seftel. Since there is nothing in his resume anywhere in the ball park of this in terms of scope he has to be given due credit for trying. Previously his work centered on a documentary about a boy with dyslexia, high school and toxic mold. I’m all for someone stretching their artistic wings and going off in a new direction. Such experimentation provides the necessary impetus to drive the craft forward. As with many experiments the results can be less than full successful as is the case here. He underplays his direction of this incredible cast allowing them to go too far over the top with their parts. He takes the film in an all out direction instead of reining it in for a more subtle type of satire.
The international corporation of Tamerlane is owned by the former United States Vice President ((Dan Aykroyd). He is a hard nosed, no nonsense type who rules the company with an iron fist. Recently they acquired the Middle Eastern country of Turaqistan. The news of the corporate take over was met with the locals rioting. To make matters worse the CEO of a rival company, Omar Sharif (Lyubomir Neikov) has just obtained oil rights and plans to run a pipeline through the corporate owned country which would greatly diminish the profits of Tamerlane. The response is to dispatch a corporate trouble shooter, Brand Hauser (John Cusack). By trouble shooter what is actually meant is Hauser kills the source of the problem; he is a hit man. He is also so tired and jaded that the only way he can feel anything at this point is by taking shots of straight hot sauce. When he gets to the new corporate asset to perform his duties he meets his assistant, Marsha Dillon (Joan Cusack). She has been there from the start of the corporate involvement and knows all the dirty little secrets. Hauser also meets up with a reporter, Natalie Hegalhuzen (Marisa Tomei) and much to his surprise finds himself falling in love. Natalie finds out there is a sex tape with her fiancé and a sultry pop star, Yonica Babyyeah (Hilary Duff). Natalie is kidnapped and it is up to Hauser to rescue her.
One of the most famous scenes in this film is minor but has been pushed all over the internet. Former ‘tween queen Duff takes on a role that is a major departure from her Lizzie McGuire image. She does a seductive dance and places a live scorpion down the front of her pants. I’ve heard of having crabs but this is a bit too ridiculous. She also has one of the worse accents ever here. John Cusack and his sister Joan are basically playing the same roles they had in ‘Grosse Point’ but it is only a faint glimmer of what they achieved there. There is a nice performance by Ben Kingsley but then again he can play anything. Aykroyd appears to go back to his SNL roots by doing an off beat parody of Vice President Dick Cheney.
The DVD release is through First Look Home Video. They have a great reputation for off beat little independent films that would most likely not have a wide audience. This film may not have met its potential but it does give an honest try.