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Thursday, July 24, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 58.0° F  Fair
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War, Inc.: War is sell
Lampooning the big business of global conflict

John and Joan Cusack bring the snark to War, Inc.
John and Joan Cusack bring the snark to War, Inc.
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If satires are what close on Saturday night, as George S. Kaufman once wrote, then political satires are lucky if they make it to Friday afternoon. Yet they keep popping up, like sniper fire. And here's War, Inc., another one. Luckily, it hits its target more often than most do. The target, of course, is the size of Texas, what some have taken to calling the entertainment-military-industrial complex. When the multinational corporations finally take over the world, wars will be a natural part of the business cycle, and the whole thing will be packaged, marketed and branded like a bar of soap - Wall Street meets Madison Avenue. Wait a minute, haven't the multinational corporations already taken over the world? And aren't wars already sold like bars of soap? Exactly.

Produced by John Cusack, who also stars and co-wrote the script, War, Inc. wants to be the Dr. Strangelove of the Bush era, taking the craziness that's already out there and jacking it up until we choke on our own laughter. It's set in Turaqistan, for which read Iraq, only things haven't cooled down, they've heated up. And the U.S. has left its free-enterprise thumbprints on everything. Even the tanks have ads for Popeyes chicken on the sides. Cusack's a hit man who's been brought in to assassinate an oil minister on behalf of Tamerlane, a Halliburton-like conglomerate that thinks of the United States as one of its subsidiaries. Dan Aykroyd, in Dick Cheney drag, orders the hit while sitting on the toilet, and we're supposed to realize that eliminating opponents is business as usual.

In Dr. Strangelove, Stanley Kubrick never let up, piling one absurdity on top of another until the whole world seemed insane. For better or worse, War, Inc. has an actual heart beating underneath all that cynicism and rage. Marisa Tomei, as fetching as ever, plays a liberal journalist who wants to blow the lid on a Brand USA media event that Cusack's putting on as a cover, and the two of them get a romantic-comedy thing going that, in the midst of a war zone, seems especially poignant. Joining them, just to take things completely over the top, is Hilary Duff as a Britney Spears-ish pop star whose marriage to a Turaqistani version of Kevin Federline will be the media event's main attraction. Joan Cusack is also around, as a Tamerlane operative who's so thoroughly jaded she almost seems gung-ho.

The entire cast manages to find the right groove to put the material over, and the material is quite strong - dialogue dripping in irony, snark raised to the level of gutter poetry. There are some great comic ideas, too, as when incoming reporters are put through the Implanted Journalistic Experience, a theme-park ride in vicarious reality that sure beats following actual soldiers around. Earlier, there'd been a Rockettes-like chorus line of amputees preparing to kick off the Brand USA floorshow. If that doesn't strike you as funny in a very sad and frightening way, then War, Inc. may not be for you. But if it seems to capture the ridiculous lengths to which some of us will go to put a positive spin on a world run amok, then you need to stop worrying and learn to love the IEDs.

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