War Inc.

By Sean Burns
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jun. 25, 2008

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Sibling rivalry: In War Inc. Joan Cusack (right) again stars alongside her brother John.

The road to movie hell is paved with good intentions. Just ask John Cusack.

He's tried being polite about this whole Iraq business once before, delivering the least convincing performance of his career as a pudgy middle-American Home Depot manager and Gulf War II widower in last year's obsequious, Oscar-grubbing Grace Is Gone, a muddled and ugly no-budget indie melodrama that, despite being a Sundance phenom, turned out to be such a critical and box office disaster it never even screened in Philadelphia.

Might this flick have been another casualty of the American public's profound and oft-commented upon aversion to the downbeat, heavy-duty trauma inherent in this latest spate of war-on-terror movies? Or maybe Grace was just maudlin, boring and oppressive?

But if you can't get away with being annoying and earnest about your politics anymore, at least you're still allowed to be smarmy. Such is the lesson learned from War Inc., a spastic, Cusack-penned semisequel to Grosse Pointe Blank that we in the press are continually informed sprang from the writer/producer/star's reading of Naomi Klein's Baghdad Year Zero.

Cool, I have a library card too.

Enlisting Bulworth scribe Jeremy Pikser and Et Tu, Babe novelist Mark Leyner to share writing duties, Cusack has fashioned himself one hell of a flattering vanity project that conveniently pretends to be an outraged, go-for-broke satirical free-for-all. Hurling straw-men arguments and risque cheap shots against the wall with reckless abandon, War Inc. eventually works its way into a Southland Tales tizzy of gaga incoherence and empty current-events signifiers.

Grosse Pointe fans will be thrilled to find their hero back in black, playing a similarly soul-sick, absurdly overtrained, snappily dressed assassin. Pay no mind to that skunk-white stripe in his hair--Cusack's Brand Hauser riffs the same supercilious one-liners, this time downing shots of Tabasco sauce before blowing away Bulgarian targets in stark Sergio Leone close-ups. Hardly your average freelance hitman, Hauser's a bought-and-paid-for pawn of the Tamerlane Corporation, a Halliburton-esque agency run by Dan Aykroyd's Cheneyish former vice president.

Any hopes you might be holding out for a sophisticated political satire will immediately be squashed at first sight of Aykroyd on the toilet, barking black-ops orders while groaning his way through an unruly bowel movement so epic he can't help but describe it aloud in vast and frightening detail.

Cusack's Hauser is assigned to prep a gaudy trade show in the recently liberated Middle Eastern country of Turaqistan, a quagmire of sectarian bloodshed with a conveniently armored Green Zone nicknamed the Emerald City. Much ado is made here of the Turaqui War being the first fully outsourced, privatized incursion in U.S. history, but the actual shenanigans of mercenary operations such as Blackwater make the film's cartoonishly broad scenarios feel strangely timid. Sad to say, but our actual American history is lapping these filmmakers in the outrage department.

War Inc. seems to sense this, so it instead devotes the bulk of its running time to Hilary Duff's Yonica Babyyeah, a Central Asian poptart from the Britney mold who wears a lot of grease-paint "ethnic" makeup and prances about with a scorpion in her panties. Her lineage will remain a difficult question for the thick few who had no inkling that Shia LeBeouf was somehow related to Indiana Jones, and meanwhile Cusack must venture outside the Green Zone to rescue a prickly left-wing journalist (Marisa Tomei, marvelous even when given crap dialogue) from those barbarians at the gates.

But all the movie's satirical know-how--and the Rockettes' kick line of collateral damage amputees needs to be seen by everybody on the planet--is usurped by endless sequences of badass Cusack the Action Hero, exhibiting the kind of sad kickboxing moves you'd expect from a 42-year-old man, until finally this allegedly "unconventional antiwar" movie becomes all about the super-cool, sarcastic overeducated white dude smiting and killing all sorts of clumsy-monosyllabic-raghead cannon fodder so he can rescue his unruly white chick.

It's Commando for Air America listeners.

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