HOW TO FAKE A WAR Takes on Fake News and Comes Up Short

Rudolph Herzog’s political satire is a mess

Rudolph Herzog’s How to Fake a War is a farce, and not the good kind. It’s a comedy that doesn’t hit the funny bone, a political satire that never takes shape. It’s a film that wants to take on the notion of fake news but doesn’t have anything authentic to say. The idea of fake news is endlessly mockable, but that doesn’t mean any joke you make about it will be funny. How to Fake a War is about as effective as one of your uncle’s incoherent political Facebook posts. I wouldn’t call How to Fake a War aimless, because it clearly has a target in mind, it’s just using butter knives instead of anything pointed.

The biggest problem facing How to Fake a War is its failure to establish the stakes of the story. Ostensibly, it’s about a publicist, Kate (Katherine Parkinson) putting together a concert for rock star client Harry Hope (Jay Pharoah). It’s a charity concert that will help bring peace to warring factions in Russian and Georgia. More importantly, a declaration of peace will deliver Harry the Nobel Peace Prize he so desperately covets. How this will happen is anyone’s guess, because the script, credited to Tim Price and Raid Sabbah, isn’t clear. As the film progresses, clarity becomes a larger issue. Things happen and it’s easy enough to track them, but it’s hard to care what happens to any of these characters. The film’s actions feel arbitrary, as if it’s being made up as it goes. Spontaneity is a great thing, if it’s achieved organically. When it isn’t, like in How to Fake a War, the result is a scattershot story.

A surprise peace announcement puts Harry’s hopes for a Nobel and Kate’s concert planning in peril. So Kate, at Harry’s request, flies out to Georgia to stall peace talks until Harry’s performance. But, here’s the questions that bog the film down: Do we care about Harry? More importantly, do we care if Kate succeeds? Are there any supporting characters worth investing in? Nope, nope, and nope. The nail in the coffin is the film’s conceit. We’re closing in on four years of “fake news” being in the public consciousness and the world is aware, more than ever, of its consequences. So a story, in 2020, about fake news spiraling out of control needs more bite than How to Fake a War can muster.

Along for the ride with Kate are her assistants Simon (Ali Cook) and Matt (Daryl McCormack), and her niece Peggy (Lily Newmark). Their grasp on the situation is tenuous at best and pretty quickly they’re flying by the seat of their pants. Some staged photos of war images go viral and before you can say “fake news” Kate becomes the leader of the Georgian resistance. The film feels so weightless and How to Fake a War never finds the tonal balance it’s looking for. There are some very real consequences for Kate and her crew, but the film moves so fast that it feels like no one cares. Everyone is a prop for the satirical points the script wants to score, and we’re given very little to invest in emotionally. This really hurts the story the longer it goes on because Peggy takes on more importance but, again, we have no reason to care about her actions.

How to Fake a War is a frustrating film. It’s not hard to see a version of this story that makes a few tweaks and gets the calibration right. But as you start to add up the things that need tweaking, it’s too much for one film to overcome. The performances are disjointed and the cast has little chemistry. The script is undercooked and over plotted, resulting in a story that has a lot going on but none of it is compelling. How to Fake a War has nothing to say besides the obvious and the whole thing comes across as glib. That attitude comes back to bite the film when it tries to get serious, particularly with revelations about Peggy. The whole thing is a misfire.

How To Fake A War is now available On Demand from Vertical Entertainment.

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