Surface-to-air missiles, Kalashnikov rifles, hand grenades, bullets -- jillions and jillions of 'em: These are the deadly, belligerently phallic treasures of Andrew Niccol's "Lord of War," a schizophrenic movie that revels lasciviously in the sins of arms dealing before declaring such activity bad, bad, bad.
The weaponry is the stock and trade of Yuri Orlov (Nicolas Cage), a Ukrainian emigre whose family pretends to be Jewish so they can escape the former Soviet Union. Bored and directionless in New York's Little Odessa, capitalistically oriented Yuri realizes that the world operates on bullets almost as much as food. (Warning: American Dream bashing on the way.)
He sets himself up as an arms dealer and rises quickly to the top ranks of the international rogue circuit, much to the consternation of rival merchant Simeon Weisz (Ian Holm). While he sends his deadly material to such warring locales as Afghanistan, the Balkans, Somalia and Liberia, Yuri has to keep a step ahead of Interpol agent Jack Valentine (Ethan Hawke) and his near-psychotic determination to arrest Yuri.
Yuri has other problems at home: a trophy wife (Bridget Moynahan) he's trying to keep in furs and diamonds -- and in the dark about his real job; and a brother (Jared Leto, the best thing about the movie) who has discovered the joys of cocaine. Wait, maybe this is a movie about the dangers of moral compartmentalization. Whatever it is, writer-director Niccol, who also wrote "Gattaca," "The Truman Show" and "Simone," continues to carve a career in icy admonishment. Despite its jauntily satirical air, "Lord of War" is never better than dour and smug. And no amount of mumbly warmth and cuteness from Cage can hide that.
-- Desson Thomson