Tuesday, July 26, 2011

'Hangover' director Todd Phillips sets his sights on real-life stoner arms dealer tale

By Sarah Sluis

Movies like Pineapple Express and Dude, Where's My Car? have successfully combined stoner philosophy with epic, falling-out-of-control crimes and plot twists. But what if were all real? Director Todd Phillips (The Hangover) read a Rolling Stone article entitled "The Stoner Arms Dealers: How Two American Kids Became Big-Time Weapons Traders." Doesn't that title just beg for a movie adaptation? Phillips has optioned the story with an eye for directing.

I took a look at the online article by Guy Lawson and pulled out the most eye-raising passages. What Main-e1301074403627 starts out as a tale about stoned dudes in over their heads turns into a dark tale about corruption and scapegoats. There's no telling if the story will focus on the glitz and swagger of the men or the shady activities that helped them make millions. Here's a look at how the plot might shape up.

The players
David Packouz, "a skinny kid who wore a yarmulke and left his white dress shirts." He smokes so much pot in high school his parents send him to a special school in Israel, where he learns to take more drugs. His friend, who he met at their Orthodox Synagogue in Miami, Efraim Diveroli, "was the class clown, an overweight kid with a big mouth and no sense of fear."

The beginnings
Diveroli's family is in the arms business. Eventually, he recruits Packouz to help his growing business, which has the law-breaking, cutting-edge vibe of Facebook in the early days. Think: The Social Network. With guns.

The swagger:
This is how Packouz describes the holdup of a plane in Kyrgyzstan, a situation that involved pressure from the Russian KGB and prompted U.S. Defense secretary Robert Gates to head there to smooth things over.

"I didn't know anything about the situation in that part of the world. But...if our delivery didn't make it to Kabul, the entire strategy of building up the Afghanistan army was going to fail. It was totally killing my buzz."

The "regular kid" moment
Then there's what Packouz "really" wants to do. "I didn't plan on being an arms dealer forever � I was going to use the money to start a music career."

The supporting actress
Midway through, a cranky older woman provides comedy relief.

"Diveroli's aunt � a strong-willed and outspoken woman who fought constantly with her nephew � joined the two friends to provide administrative support. She didn't approve of their drug use, and she talked openly about them on the phone, as if they weren't present."

The plot thickens
In the second act, the two go to an arms convention, Eurosatory, in Paris, where they meet a James Bond type. Heinrich Thomet, a Swiss arms dealer, was "tall and suave, with movie-star looks and an impeccable sense of fashion." He becomes their middleman.

The duo wins a $298 million defense contract, a "pseudo case." The aim was to arm the Afghan Army, but without care for the weapons quality. Here's where it gets dark. "The Bush administration's ambivalence about Afghanistan had manifested itself in the terms of the contract: The soldiers of Kabul and Kandahar would not be abandoned in the field, but nor would they be given the tools to succeed."

The unraveling
The duo ends up shipping Chinese ammo from Albania to Afghanistan. It's illegal, but they look the other way until political winds change. A competing defense contractor tattles on them for something else, incriminating emails are found, newspapers start writing stories, and that's when things come to an end for the two.

Phillips will have to lighten up this story considerably if he wants it to fit with his existing oeuvre of comedy films, but maybe he's trying to go serious, with a comedy like Men Who Stare at Goats or Charlie Wilson's War. The author of the article ends by noting just how larger-than-life the young arms dealers were. "As always, the 24-year-old arms dealer [Diveroli] was the star of his own Hollywood movie. No matter what happened, he told the agent moments before his arrest, he would never leave the arms business. 'Once a gun runner,' he boasted, 'always a gun runner.'"

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