'War Dogs' is what a junior enlisted gun-running empire would look like

Imagine the two most ballsy but also kind of dimwitted members of your squad — the Pvt. Snuffys and Lance Cpl. Schmuckatellis of the world.

Now imagine them in civilian clothes with millions of dollars. Take it one step further and imagine that they have those millions of dollars because they’ve become international arms dealers who sell to the Department of Defense.

That’s what the Warner Bros. movie, “War Dogs” is like. It follows Efraim Diveroli and David Packouz, two civilians who desperately want to be rich and live the good life. Diveroli is a stoner and the heir to a modest family business re-selling weapons bought at police auctions online. Packouz is his pothead buddy.

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Efraim Diveroli, played by Jonah Hill, enjoys his chance to fire a Kalashnikov while purchasing weapons for the Afghan security forces. (Photo: courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

The movie is based on the real story of Diveroli and Packouz as detailed in Rolling Stone article that later became a book, Arms and the Dudes.

These two kids find a way to act as middlemen for the U.S. government when it purchases arms for Iraqi, Afghan and other allied militaries. They go on to fedbizopps.gov — a real website where the government lists available contracts — and try to outbid defense corporations for contracts to provide light bulbs, ammunition and any other supplies the military needs.

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Efraim Diveroli and David Packouz, played by Jonah Hill and Miles Teller, party with Packouz’s wife at a company event to celebrate the arms dealers’ successes. (Photo: courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

As their business, AEY Inc., grows, they bid on larger and larger contracts. Without giving any of the movie’s big surprises away, the two gun runners get in over their heads the same way Pvt. Snuffy and Lance Cpl. Schmuckatelli would. The guy who directed The Hangover, Todd Phillips, also directed War Dogs — and it shows.

Diveroli and Packouz’s misadventures in international arms dealing are a lot of fun to watch as they alternate between partying, firing powerful weapons and getting caught in dangerous jams by their inexperience. In one memorable scene, they’re left racing through the Iraqi desert with a smuggler as insurgents attempt to kill them and steal their cargo — a literal truckload of Beretta pistols.

For obvious reasons, a movie about gun runners during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the early 2000s spends a bit of time with the U.S. military. While the film doesn’t get everything exactly right, it does seem to capture the spirit of bored soldiers pretty well. A mounted patrol saves the gun runners at one point, but the first driver immediately flips the bird at the stupid civilians he just had to pull out of a jam.

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Efraim Diveroli and David Packouz, played by Jonah Hill and Miles Teller, stand in a warehouse of cash managed by the U.S. Army in Iraq. (Photo: courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

The crux of the movie is a $300-million deal to arm the Afghan security forces for years, a real contract that AEY won in January 2007. That’s where the film gets tense as the bumbling dealers attempt to buy millions of rounds, thousands of missiles and grenades and tons of other equipment from former Soviet Bloc mobsters.

Despite the serious nature of arms dealing, Jonah Hill and Miles Teller are funny and enjoyable as Diveroli and Packouz. The movie provides an entertaining look at what goes on behind the scenes to arm both U.S. troops and allies around the world, and delves into the shady underbelly of that world while being fun instead of preachy.

War Dogs opens in most theaters on Aug. 19.

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