White-collar crime has been a happy hunting ground for film studios in recent years, with Wolf Of Wall Street and The Big Short doing good business both at the Oscars and the box office.
Arriving in their wake is War Dogs, another film based (loosely) on the true story of some ordinary guys stumbling over an extraordinary loophole in the system and making a giddy amount of money by sticking it to the man. Ten years into the aftermath of a global recession, you can see why this sort of story appeals.
In War Dogs, it's not the stock market or the housing crisis our every-man heroes manipulate but the global arms trade. Boyhood best friends David Packouz (Miles Teller) and Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) exploit a new government policy, instigated by George W Bush in the wake of the Iraq war, of allowing open bids on military contracts.
They start out picking up the chicken feed Lockheed Martin and the rest of the big boys won't touch, but before long they're bidding for bigger and bigger deals by increasingly illegal means, posing as professionals rather than a pair of shrewd chancers with a penchant for weed.
The comparisons with Wolf Of Wall Street are unavoidable – and not just because Jonah Hill turns in a similarly deranged (though somewhat more ruthless) turn here as he did alongside Leonardo DiCaprio. He's even developed a new creepy signature laugh for the role, and for the first hour the film zips along nicely on the back of his and Teller's charisma.
But after a neat, well-executed set piece in which the pair drives through the Jordan-Iraqi border to hand-deliver some guns, the film runs out of steam. The problem is that we've seen it all this before – the hubris, the money-and-cocaine montages, the beautiful but one-dimensional girlfriend getting steadily more-sick-of-this-shit (played by Cuban-Spanish actress Ana de Armas). It's like Wolf Of Wall Street with the volume turned down: as a drama, it's not quite gripping enough and as a comedy it's not quite funny enough, and you see every development in the story a good mile or two down the road.
Which is not to say the War Dogs isn't entertaining. Confidently directed by American Todd Phillips – trying and succeeding to move on from The Hangover series – the film is worth seeing for a smattering of sharp lines and two strong central performances, even if Armas (and a completely miscast Bradley Cooper) are wasted in support. War Dogs doesn't get close to breaking into the big league of great crime movies, but it makes enough of a stab at it to be worth a couple of hours of your time.