“How to Fake a War” is the “In the Loop” meets “Absolutely Fabulous” of “fake news” comedies.
For those who don’t get the references, that means it throws amoral, self-absorbed public relations people at a “We need a war” scenario, that it’s cynical and dark — people die. And it’s comical and quick, if not downright manic.
The story is set up in a furious pre-credits bit, introducing a public relations veteran (Katherine Parkinson of TV’s “The IT Crowd”), a delusion Kanye-esque dunce of a pop star (Jay Pharaoh), a conflict on the Asian steppes that creates a humanitarian crisis, which our PR pro turns into a rep-rescuing benefit concert for her arrogant fool of a pop star client.
Image problem SOLVED for Harry Hope (Pharaoh, formerly of “Saturday Night Live”). All he has to do is headline the concert, lead the fans in chants of “Hope is Dope,” and they’ll ignore what a fur-coat wearing tool he is.
Only peace breaks out between Georgia and Ukbar. “Why couldn’t they wait three more days?” the “client” wants to know. “Make PEACE go away,” Harry demands. “I’m your UNIVERSE, Kate! Follow my PHYSICS!”
Kate needs three days of “fake news” showing that the “cease fire” is nothing of the sort. She and her team — assistant Simon and cameraman/tech-guy Matt (Ali Cook, Daryl McCormack) will fly East and see to it.
“We run red carpets and press junkets. What d’we know about war?”
“Enough to FAKE one!”
Kate’s new intern, her niece (Lily Newmark) is hurled into this as well — fetching coffee, making plane reservations (she’s never flown), flagging a taxi van, herding the troops to the airport.
Peggy is about 20, looks all of 15, and in the film’s cleverest joke, she is a NATURAL at this stuff, a born “fixer.” Sure, they have a local guy wearing that title whom she has hired to get them to the Georgian border/conflict zone. But Peggy is the one who convinces a truck driver to take them. And at every turn, she is there to throw more dynamite onto a “fake” explosion, apply fake blood to “victims” of the “ongoing” conflict — some of these “crisis actors” strung up on telephone poles.
Like “Auntie,” like “niece?” It’s like it’s in her ginger-headed blood.
But the fakery is so convincing that cable news isn’t the only group fooled. The combatants go back at it and Kate has that moment every PR agent takes a blood oath to never give in to — an attack of conscience.
“How to Fake a War” all but sprints by, from fakery to firefights, kidnapping to tirades from the talent, bitching about losing “My Nobel PRIZE.”
Parkinson chooses to play against the chaos and mayhem surrounding Kate. She is calm, quiet to the point of mumble-whispering her lines. It’s a justifiable choice, but not the funniest one. She becomes the weakest link in her own star vehicle.
Pharaoh dials up the diva, Newmark makes the “innocent who isn’t all that innocent” a hyper-competent, almost sinister reflection of Kate’s PR cynicism.
And the first-time feature director who changed his name to Rudolph Herzog keeps things skipping along, a little “Hollywood” fakery here, the sting of violence (flippantly skipped by, cynically exploited) there.
It isn’t “Wag the Dog” or “In the Loop,” and the “Ab Fab” borrowings aren’t as loopy. But “How to Fake a War” amuses and impresses and entertains as it does. You will never again look at those stiletto-heeled women in their little black dresses herding their “talent” down a red carpet, clipboards in hand, “coaching” their celebrities as they put words literally in their mouths, with disdain after this.
Cast: Katherine Parkinson, Lily Newmark, Ali Cook, and Jay Pharaoh.
Credits: Directed by Rudolph Herzog, script by Tim Price. A Vertical Entertainment release.
Running time: 1:25