Review by Sean Boelman
Satire can be insanely funny when successful, but there are some cases in which a film totally misses the mark and ends up feeling comedically bankrupt. The new movie How to Fake a War, from director Rudolph Herzog (son of Werner), falls into that latter category, squandering an interesting idea on an unfunny script.
The film follows a public relations consultant who is tasked with creating fake news to make it appear as if a war in Europe is still going on so that her client’s charity concert isn’t cancelled. And while the idea of lampooning the ridiculous public relations industry is interesting, Tim Price’s script does it in such a mean-spirited way that it doesn’t work.
In recent years, the public has become more and more aware of just how much influence publicists have on basically every aspect of society, even national politics, and this movie takes that to the extreme. However, in trying to make dark jokes about war and genocide, Price loses track of what has made other black comedies about war work so well and instead goes too far.
The first thirty or so minutes of the film, which really lean into the fake news element of the premise, feel very misguided. Many of its attempts at humor come up short, either being too depressing or too dry to be funny. The last hour turns into more of a traditional fish-out-of-water comedy, but there are still few laughs to be found.
Additionally, the movie tries to include a subplot about the protagonist growing a heart. Ultimately, this is a far more compelling, if conventional storyline, and yet it also somehow feels more absurd than the idea of fabricating a war. Still, we have this storyline to thank for the significant tonal shift heading into the second act that makes the film more bearable.
Katherine Parkinson’s lead performance is decent, as she tries her best to scrape some sense of comedy out of the character. It’s very dry at times, but this is due to no fault of her own. Lily Newmark is charming but underused in a role whose purpose for most of the movie is to be dismissed. And it’s great to see Jay Pharaoh in an over-the-top role as the arrogant popstar, but he gets barely any screen time.
The film is also frustrating on a visual level because it looks extremely grimy. Perhaps this was Herzog’s intention — to make the audience feel disgust at the ugliness of what they are seeing on screen — but that doesn’t change the fact that it is entirely unpleasant to watch. It feels very amateurish as a whole, which is disappointing.
How to Fake a War may sound promising, but unfortunately it is almost completely unfunny. A solid but small performance from Jay Pharaoh aside, there really isn’t much of a reason to give this one a watch.
How to Fake a War hits VOD on August 7.