And, of course, lotsa pop songs. Scorese’s never been a slouch in the soundtrack department either, from the doo-wop and Stones in Mean Streets to the crooners in Raging Bull to the fierce punk and mournful blues of “T.B. Sheets” in Bringing Out the Dead. But War Dogs’ song selection is, to put it mildly, a tad on the nose. Here are a few highlights:
This isn’t curation – this is typing keywords into your iTunes search bar and downloading the top result.
But auto-pilot music supervision is, by no means, an infliction confined to War Dogs. Two weeks ago, Suicide Squad set its opening Louisiana setting by playing “House of the Rising Sun,” and used “Sympathy for the Devil” (which has, per IMDb, been previously heard in something like 50 television shows and films, including Robert Zemeckis’s Flight, no slouch itself in the obvious-needle-drops department) for its opening credits, because you see, they’re villains, like the devil, but they’re the heroes, so we should have sympathy for them. Bad girl Harley Quinn is introduced with “You Don’t Own Me”; chrome-domed Will Smith displays his marksmanship skills to the accompaniment of “Black Skinhead.” They chopper into the city to “Spirit in the Sky” (they’re in the sky, see). When the crew is first gathered, we hear “Seven Nation Army” (they’re forming an army, you guys), and when they suit up in their wacky outfits, we hear the wacky sounds of Eminem’s “Without Me.”
Oh, and when they introduce Croc, guess what they play? FUCKING “FORTUNATE SON.” (Apparently because he was born on the bayou; they can’t even get the obvious Creedence song right.)
So what the hell is going on in these movies? It’s hard to believe all the music supervisors suddenly went out to lunch. It feels, instead, like a reflection of the general laziness that’s crippling mainstream moviemaking, across all quadrants. If the plotting is half-hearted and the dialogue is boilerplate and the actors are interchangeable, then why not select music cues that blatantly signal the most obvious emotional responses? It’s all generic product anyway – they might as well try to provoke some kind of engagement by shoplifting whatever emotional baggage a song like “Sympathy” or “Fortunate Son” has gathered in its fifty years on earth. All these movies are just rearranging the same elements every time anyway; why should the music be any different?
And that’s what I found myself contemplating as War Dogs came to a close – with Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows.” Good song, evocative. Previously heard in The Program, Exotica, Pump Up the Volume, The King of Kong, Homeland, and last month’s The Infiltrator. Kinda starting to lose its punch.
War Dogs and Suicide Squad are out now in wide release.