Wag the Dog (1997) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for language
Running Time: 97 min.
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Robert DeNiro, Anne Heche, Denis Leary, Willie Nelson, Andrea Martin, Kirsten Dunst, William H. Macy, John Michael Higgins, Woody Harrelson, Craig T. Nelson
Cameo: David Koechner, Harland Williams, John Cho, Merle Haggard, James Belushi, Jay Leno
Director: Barry Levinson
Screenplay: Hilary Henkin, David Mamet (based on the book, "American Hero," by Larry Beinhart)
Review published December 29, 1997
Eleven days before the election, the incumbent president is accused of having sex with a girl scout (of sorts) spelling doom for what would otherwise have been a landslide victory. Enter Conrad Brean (De Niro, Cop Land), a presidential advisor hired to try to cover up such instances and confuse the media, and thereby the public, from concentrating on such issues. Due to the highly volatile nature of the scandal, Brean seeks out Stanley Motss (Hoffman, Dick Tracy), a top Hollywood producer, and together they devise a plan to fake a war with Albania in order to divert attention from the president's scandal to the war/pageant.
It's an interesting idea, and with perfect timing, coming out right in the middle of the Clinton/Lewinski scandal coinciding with a possible war with Iraq. This film had quite excellent reviews from most major critics, but after watching it, I can only scratch my head as to exactly why. True, there are terrific performances by the leads, but the film never seemed to get off the ground. It tries to be a a biting satire, but alas, it's too unbelievable to think they could pull any of this off in real terms.
The supporting cast of Anne Heche (I Know What You Did Last Summer), Willie Nelson (The Electric Horseman), Denis Leary (The MatchMaker), Craig T. Nelson (The Devil's Advocate), and Woody Harrelson (Palmetto), is wasted in unfunny and one-dimensional roles. It isn't all bad, as there are some occasional moments of insight as to manipulation of the media and public by the government, but not enough to pull this film from the quagmire of absurdity it unfortunately found itself rooted in too deeply.
©1997 Vince Leo