It's not promising when 10 to 15 minutes into a film, you begin to seriously wonder how much the actors are making, only to be momentarily distracted by the anorexic bodies of its two co-stars (Marisa Tomei and Hilary Duff), which in turn leads to thoughts on the psycho-pathology of starvation and misguided notions of beauty. None of it, of course, has anything to do with the ill-begotten flick War, Inc., a peculiar mix of political satire, romance, and the personal angst of a hit man (John Cusack) that doesn't quite add up to anything, short of a bad taste. In addition to starring in War, Inc., Cusack is also a producer and co-writer.
War, Inc. is set in Turaqistan, a war-torn Middle Eastern country, now occupied by an American corporation headed by a former U.S. vice president (Dan Aykroyd). To eliminate its competition, the corporation hires an assassin (Cusack) to do away with a Middle Eastern oil minister (Lyubomir Neikov), who is planning to build an oil pipeline through Turaqistan, thus blocking the vp's plans to have sole ownership of the country's rich assets. By the way, the oil minister's name is Omar Sharif, and this is typical of the "wit" throughout the film. There's some nonsense about the wedding of a pop star (Hilary Duff) and a romance with a left-wing reporter (Tomei), but none of it makes a cohesive plot.
Devoid of consistent style or vision the heavy-handed script is numbing and the actors, most of whom seem to be sleep walking throughout, are well matched with the material. Tomei and Duff may simply be calorie deprived and thus too enervated to give a performance. As for Cusack, arguably, his deadened expression and affectless voice are part of an interpretation. In all fairness, Cusack's hit man needs a gulp of hot sauce to give him a psychic boost before committing a murder. Still, it just doesn't compute. You're forgetting him and, indeed, the entire picture while watching it. There are, however, a couple of performances that rise above this mess. Playing an embittered but relentlessly efficient corporate operative Joan Cusack is amuing. So too is Ben Kingsley as a wheel-chair bound ex-CIA kingpin: an embodiment of evil gone rigid. Is this a nod to Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove? If so, it only backfires, reminding the viewer of a truly inspired political parody. For War, Inc will never be Dr. Strangelove. The two flicks are not even in the same universe.
Opens May 23 in limited release
Director: Joshua Seftel
Written by: Mark Leyner & Jeremy Pikser & John Cusack
Starring: John Cusack, Hilary Duff, Marisa Tomei, Joan Cusack, Ben Kingsley