Future generations will define the 2010s as being defined by the concept of fake news. Naturally then, it is a topic ripe to be aped and parodied. TV series like The Thick of It and Veep have proven how excellent this can be when done right, successfully using the power of spin to create an almost unprecedented level of black comedy. When done badly, however it can be abysmal; and unfortunately How to Fake a War falls into the latter category.
Katherine Parkinson stars as PR consultant Kate who, in the wake of a sudden ceasefire, attempts to fake skirmishes along the Georgian border so that her client, Harry Hope’s (Jay Pharoah) charity concert can go ahead and he can reap the rewards. Of course things fall apart so quickly it is almost farcical and Kate, along with her sister/intern Peggy (Lily Newmark), finds herself caught in the middle of a real conflict, attempting to exploit it to their own ends.
How to Fake a War moves ahead a breakneck pace, attempting to cover a lot of ground in its 84 minute run time, and it suffers greatly as a result. The characters swiftly rattle from situation to situation, and plot points are introduced then resolved with very little fanfare, if they’re not completely forgotten. Of particular note is the attempt at family drama which is seemingly introduced for emotional padding, but is then rapidly resolved by the end of first act to make way for the rest of the plot and the remnant of which insists on reemerging later. The result is a film in which almost every aspect feels unearned.
This is especially true of the attempts at comedy, which are often woefully cheap. Scenes which have the potential for moments of biting satire and dark humour are instead marred by cows farting or one-liners that are at once unfunny and mistimed. Similarly, there is a great reliance on outdated tropes and a portrayal of rural communities in Western Asia that one would have thought died out with Borat. Consequently, the film is actually quite boring to watch and is not aided by the deeply uninspired cinematography.
There is perhaps one saving grace, and that is Parkinson herself, who among the entire cast, is one of the few characters enjoyable to watch; and half that is because she is essentially reviving her character of Jen from The IT Crowd. Sadly, this also means that Parkinson is one of the greatest casualties of the film as she is caught in the crossfire between two sides: the concept and elements in place for a successful satire, and the execution which is almost spectacular in its failings.
UK Premiere Screenings Odeon Edinburgh Sat 22 and Sun 23 Jun 2019