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Simon Read [Celluloid 06.24.19] comedy drama

I think it was around 30 seconds into the first scene that I realised I'd made a big mistake. The sound design felt weirdly off, and the scene was flatly lit. Then the first joke landed, with a splat, like a pile of wet laundry. Oh dear.

In essence, How To Fake a War is a modern take on Wag The Dog, updated for the fake news era. Katherine Parkinson plays the neurotic PR rep to a spoilt American musician, and finds herself in the position of having to plant stories in the media of a false war on the Russian border in order to generate ticket sales for her client's much-touted peace concert - all very silly and a fairly familiar and routine set-up for a farcical comedy.

Whatever Wag The Dog got right (and ignoring its high levels of smug), How To Fake a War seems to get terribly wrong. It is not enough that it feels hopelessly generic, it also has the air of a rushed, clumsy production. Parkinson is a good comic actor, but here she seems stressed and unhappy, as though she knows this film is not going to turn out well and wants out. Actors deliver lines as though they're on the verge of just giving up part way through and asking to leave. Perhaps they should have.

We follow Parkinson and her PR team and, somewhat inexplicably, her estranged daughter (a deeply irritating Lily Newmark), as they travel to Georgia to complete their plan. Never once do any of them suggest simply hiring actors and a studio like De Niro and Hoffman did back in the nineties, but then we wouldn't get endless limp gags about bad hotel rooms and a lack of wi-fi in the former Soviet Union.

Characters stand around looking sad as the plot grinds on towards a big showdown and Parkinson is inevitably mistaken for a guerrilla fighter and awkwardly leads a bunch of rebels to victory (or something) and then the big concert happens and, Jesus, I can't write any more...

How To Fake a War must have looked good on the page, but sadly the film does not really work on any level. The jokes feel cheap and lazy; Newmark shrieks her lines and pouts furiously; the press audience did not laugh. Struggling to do anything interesting with its premise, the film settles on simply limping to the finish line.
There was the suggestion of a sequel in the final moments of the film, in which our heroes go to work for Trump in the White House. I really hope that's fake news.

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