Without a doubt, there are uproarious ideas in “War, Inc.,” and even if this scattershot satire on America’s foreign entanglements arrives a little late in the day, it still has some agreeably wacked-out moments.
The movie, hatched by producer-star-co-writer John Cusack, works better in parts than as a whole. Cusack plays a corporate fixer (he kills people) sometime in the 21st century.
In this era, countries no longer wage war; the corporations handle the process, with their own standing armies and public relations groups.
At the behest of the Tamerlane Corp. (amusingly named after the voracious 14th-century conqueror), Cusack sweeps into occupied Turaqistan to put a happy face on the war effort — and also to assassinate a leader.
All manner of craziness follows. We see journalists in a war zone who aren’t just embedded, they’re “implanted,” juiced up chemically and dropped into a simulated war room that jolts their seats around like an amusement-park ride.
The secret headquarters of Tamerlane is located inside a Popeye’s fried chicken outlet, and the entertainment for the upcoming Turaqistan Trade Show includes a line of dancing amputees with prosthetic legs.
Capping the festivities will be the wedding of a pop star named Yonica Babyyeah (Hilary Duff), whose salaciousness is so overt she does something naughty with a scorpion.
Given that the movie aspires to the level of “Dr. Strangelove,” it’s probably a mistake that Cusack (writing with Jeremy Pikser and novelist Mark Leyner) grounds the characters in reality. His assassin, who calms his nerves with straight shots of hot sauce, is having a breakdown from his embrace of emotional bankruptcy.
And there’s a lefty journalist (Marisa Tomei in good form), who hates everything Cusack stands for but appreciates his attention.
The funny moments (some of them supplied by Joan Cusack and Ben Kingsley) aren’t quite enough to make this a movie. It’s a mess, but the sense of commitment is impressive, and sometimes exhilarating.
“War, Inc.” does stumble on a common bugaboo of topical satires, which is that the stuff we read in the paper every day is more absurd than fiction. Cusack said in an interview that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld oversaw a skiing tournament involving amputee soldiers at the same time he was sitting on the board of a company that made prosthetic limbs. You can’t really trump that, although “War, Inc.” makes a game try.