"War, Inc." is a military satire that only occasionally hits the target. Set in the near future, it imagines the United States fighting a completely privatized war in mythical Turaquistan, a petroleum-rich state whose oil minister has decided to build a pipeline without foreign assistance. This is an affront to Tamerlane, the U.S. military-industrial conglomerate supplying the men and munitions to fight the conflict.

John Cusack (who also co-wrote and produces) stars as Brand Hauser, a conflicted CIA hit man assigned to eliminate the upstart bureaucrat. His target's name is Omar Sharif, which will give you an idea of the film's heavy-handed humor. Ditto the village named Falafel and the corporate logos that decorate the tanks like lumbering Indy race cars.

Hauser's cover occupation is producing a trade show that will improve America's brand image. In that guise he meets idealistic reporter Natalie Hegalhuzen (Marisa Tomei), who refuses to have a chip embedded in her neck in order to receive the "implanted journalistic experience." Hauser takes a liking to her, but we knew he was a killer with a sensitive side. In an opening assassination scene he swigs down shots of hot sauce to calm his unsteady emotions.

In addition to the always-reliable Cusack and Tomei, the film is packed with top-quality performers. Cusack's sister Joan has a terrific turn as his temperamental secretary, Ben Kingsley plays a Machiavellian CIA mentor, and Dan Aykroyd cameos as the former U.S. vice president who runs Tamerlane. Even Hilary Duff, unrecognizable as a Turaquistani pop-tart, nails her performance.

The film's twin Achilles heels are its script, proudly absurd but only intermittently inspired, and its modest budget. When big ambitions collide with limited means, the strain shows. There are some good laughs to be had in the 'roid-rage antics of the pumped-up soldiers-for-hire and a trade-show dance line of casualties outfitted with Tamerlane prosthetic legs. And there's a fine running gag about the helpful voice of Hauser's onboard security system, which turns into a therapist for the glum killer.

The padding ratio, however, is about four to one. Scenes of Duff's gangsta-styled entourage are overplayed and overlong. And the means by which Hauser's tragic past is laboriously connected with his dangerous present is beyond preposterous. "War, Inc." aims high but mostly shoots blanks.

Colin Covert • 612-673-7186