Cusack comedy "War" good for nothing

Tue Apr 29, 2008 3:28am EDT

John Cusack poses at the premiere of ''Grace Is Gone'' at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills, California November 28, 2007. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

John Cusack poses at the premiere of ''Grace Is Gone'' at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills, California November 28, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni

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NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - The ambitions and intentions of "War, Inc.," co-written by and starring John Cusack, are laudable but the film is a nearly complete misfire.

This absurdist comedy clearly has aspirations to be this generation's "Dr. Strangelove" with its satirical attack on the privatization of the Iraq War. Despite its sterling cast and a screenplay written by such experienced farceurs as Cusack ("Grosse Pointe Blank"), Mark Leyner (the novel "Et Tu, Babe") and Jeremy Pikser ("Bulworth"), the film is far more groan- than laugh-inducing. Scheduled for a theatrical release May 23, the First Look release is unlikely to counter the commercial malaise for war-themed films.

Cusack, in the latest of a seemingly endless (and psychologically curious) string of hitman roles, plays Hauser, a typically troubled assassin whose inner psyche is so dead that he resorts to downing shot glasses of hot sauce in order to feel anything. His latest mission, at the behest of Tamerlane -- a Halliburton-type corporation run by a Dick Cheney-like former vice president (Dan Aykroyd) -- is to assassinate a Middle Eastern oil minister named Omar Sharif (an example of the film's humor) who is threatening to undercut their plans to build an oil pipeline in the wartorn country of Turaqistan.

Complicating Hauser's mission are his increasingly close relationships with a beautiful war correspondent (Marisa Tomei) and a rambunctious young pop star, the Britney Spears of Central Asia (Hilary Duff), for whom he takes a fatherly interest.

While some of the film's gags do work -- such as the theme park-style "Implanted Journalist Experience" the reporters are invited to take -- most fall distressingly flat. The broadness reaches Monty Python-style proportions, only minus the wit, and caricatures like Ben Kingsley's Southern drawling CIA boss are all too familiar.

The actors seem adrift amid the film's shifting tones (at one point Cusack, who underplays to the point of tediousness, engages in a fight scene as violent as anything in the "Rambo" series), with even such normally reliable comic pros as Joan Cusack reduced to playing everything at a near hysterical pitch. Oddly, the funniest performance in the film comes from Duff, who invests her portrayal of Yonica Babyyeah with an entertainingly sexy insouciance.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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