Combustible Celluloid
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With: John Cusack, Marisa Tomei, Joan Cusack, Hilary Duff, Ben Kingsley, Dan Aykroyd, Lyubomir Neikov
Written by: John Cusack, Mark Leyner, Jeremy Pikser
Directed by: Joshua Seftel
MPAA Rating: R for violence, language and brief sexual material
Running Time: 107
Date: 04/28/2008

War, Inc. (2008)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Corporation Nation

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

John Cusack's third screenplay -- written apart from his usual team members D.V. DeVincentis and Steve Pink -- takes several cues from his first screenplay, Grosse Pointe Blank (1997). He plays a secret agent/assassin named Hauser, who is sent to "Turaqistan" to kill a Middle Eastern oil minister named Omar Sharif (Lyubomir Neikov). Turaqistan is a war zone, in which everything -- including the military -- is owned or sponsored by the major American corporation Tamerlane. Tamerlane has set up a fake city center ("The Emerald City") for journalists to see, where "Thank you America" is scrawled on the walls and everything looks peachy keen. There, Hauser goes into his cover: running a big trade show for businesses that want to help re-build the bombed-out country. John's sister Joan Cusack plays his contact, much like her funny, caustic secretary role in Grosse Pointe Blank. Hauser falls for a strong-willed, left-wing journalist, Natalie Hegalhuzen (Marisa Tomei) and finds himself babysitting a spoiled, insecure Turaqistani pop star, Yonica Babyyeah (Hilary Duff), whose wedding will be the centerpiece of the show. There's a lot more, including Dan Aykroyd as a Dick Cheney-type politician/corporate colossus, and Cusack scrambles it up fast and furious, while himself remaining the cool, though slightly melancholy, center. (Hauser wants to get out of this job, and he has lost a family because of it.) The hilarious jokes and one-liners make take two viewings to fully absorb, but the movie also has an almost off-putting cynicism running through it that may make a second viewing unwelcome. It's awfully chilly and distancing, perhaps because of the sickening thud of the matter-of-fact violence. (American soldiers get jacked up on freeze-dried coffee and fire their weapons willy-nilly.) But Cusack is one of my favorite actors, and his morose, yet verbally acrobatic persona is always welcome, and the beautiful, sassy Tomei makes a perfect match for him. Scribe Jeremy Pikser, who received an Oscar nomination for co-writing Bulworth (1998), joins Cusack and Mark Leyner on the screenplay. Joshua Seftel directs. Also available on War, Inc.

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