It's always a challenge for a comedic director to make the leap to more serious fare.

It's always a challenge for a comedic director to make the leap to more serious fare.

There was some pretty great recent precedent when Adam McKay delivered a layered and surprisingly entertaining dissection of the 2007 housing bubble and the investors who saw it coming in last year's "The Big Short."

That landed McKay an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. Before that, he directed "Anchorman" and "Talladega Nights."

This would seem to be the path Todd Phillips is following with "War Dogs." Phillips is a maestro of man-child comedies, having brought us "Old School" and the diminishing returns of the "Hangover" trilogy.

And some of that same sensibility comes into play in "War Dogs," which, like "The Big Short," is based on a wild true story that exposes some wide-scale flaws in the system.

David Packouz (Miles Teller) is a 22-year-old living in Miami and trying to hustle out a living as a massage therapist for rich dudes. He's reunited with his childhood friend Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), who has been buying and selling guns with his uncle.

Efraim has a bigger plan in mind and brings David into the fold. As the Iraq War continues, Efraim discovers the U.S. government has opened bidding on a massive amount of weapon orders. Most are lapped up by the big players in the arms market, but he's discovered there's plenty of money to be made in the crumbs.

Of course, this leads to a cycle of greed that pushes the two twentysomethings into the wild world of international arms dealing.

Phillips co-wrote this bro dramedy with a very, very liberal homage to one clear influence. His onscreen characters may profess their love of "Scarface," but from his main character's constant narrations to the frequent free-frames, it's really obvious how much Phillips is using "Goodfellas" as a template. And, hey, you could do worse, right?

Of course, Miles Teller and Jonah Hill aren't Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci. I've been following Teller since "The Spectacular Now" and think he's great, but it's a lot to ask him to carry. Hill plays to the same notes he did in "The Wolf of Wall Street" but less effectively.

Of course, Phillips also plays to some laughs, but the pervasive bro vibe (literally, Efraim calls David "bro" about seven times) plays against the drama. It's a mixed bag, but it's definitely no "Goodfellas" or even "The Big Short."