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War, Inc. (**)

One of War, Inc.’s clearly identifiable inspirations is Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. This is not shamefully overambitious as much as it is a misstep: do we really need another Strangelove, one of the (forgive the sacrilege) shrillest, most tedious of movie history’s acclaimed political satires?

Quibble if you will, but at the very least War, Inc. is missing a figure comparable in crowd-pleasing outrageousness to Peter Sellers (Ben Kingsley, in a role that shouldn’t be divulged here, tries his best, but misses the mark). Instead, War, Inc. leans on John Cusack, whose repetitive, glowering cynicism is getting harder and harder to watch. He plays Brand Hauser, a notorious assassin in the service of Tamerlane, a Halliburton-like company that, in the not-too-distant future, controls the wartorn nation of “Turaqistan.” Hauser poses as a Tamerlane trade show producer (under the ever-twitchy aegis of Joan Cusack as one of the company’s executive toadies), in charge of pulling off the wedding-cum-publicity orgy of Central Asian pop tart Yonica Babyyeah (Hilary Duff). To boot, Hauser must contend with the insistent prying of left-wing reporter Natalie Hegalhuzen (Marisa Tomei).

War, Inc.’s absurdity is rapid-fire, and there are some disturbingly comic moments that succeed: a chorus line of Rockette amputees; an Epcot–like room where journalists go to experience simulated war. Other moments, many of them, are unfunny, especially Duff’s scenes—bids for intellectual cred through self-parody that seem stiff and desperate. John Cusack, who has co-written and -produced this, does something similar; inspired by a Naomi Klein article, War, Inc. is abrupt and dizzyingly enthused with its own political righteousness. Kubrickian characteristics indeed, and curiously inept at grappling with the messes that define our present age.

War, Inc. is now playing at AMC Yonge & Dundas (10 Dundas St. E.), Empire Empress Walk 10 Cinemas (5095 Yonge St.) and Kennedy Commons Cinema (33 William Kitchen Rd.).

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