Movie Magazine International

Wag the Dog

US - 1997

Movie Review By Andrea Chase

Less than two weeks before his re-election, the president of the United States invites a barely pubescent girl into his private office and does something, well, unfortunate. We never learn the president's name, or see his face, for that matter because "Wag The Dog's" premise is that politically he's a mere bagatelle. In this murky world, spin doctors are pre-eminent.

The best in the business is Conrad Brean and he devises a diabolical plan not to answer the charges, but to divert public attention until election day. How? Easy. Declare war on Albania. Well, not really, he invents rumors of war and of the nuclear weapons stockpiled by the Albanians in Canada. Why Albania? They don't have a big lobby. And why does Brean know this will work? Because if it's on TV, and the media being in the rumor mongering business, it will be, then it's real. The truth isn't just lost amid the smoke and mirrors, it's irrelevant.

And because this is the media, who better to orchestrate the fake newsreel footage, convincing backstory, even merchandising and a sappy theme song for the Albanian war than a Hollywood producer of overblown, over budgeted epics?

He's played by Dustin Hoffman with a dead-on send-up of Hollywood blow-dryed egomania for whom reality is merely the backdrop for the movie biz. De Niro's Brean comes lawsuit close to Roger Ailes as a lovable bear of a guy who doesn't lose the cutes even when he's telling people that if they spill the beans about the scam, some very unpleasant people will come to their homes and kill them.

The only reason audiences may not laugh out loud continuously at Barry Levinson's "Wag the Dog" is that this tale of election year hi-jinks screens less as fiction than docu-drama. It doesn't strain credulity while watching this amoral black comedy, to believe that what's happening on screen might be what actually goes on and that cuts a little too close to the funny bone.

Which isn't to say that this isn't a smart, slick and very funny film. It's just that nowadays it's hard to come up with political satire that tops what's happening in the real world.

© 1998 - Andrea Chase - Air Date: 12/31/97

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