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WAG THE DOG

Directed by Barry Levinson (1997, New Line Cinema)
Starring Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, Anne Heche, and Denis Leary

A damage control team creates an artificial war to direct media attention away from a White House sex scandal just before an election.

 

 

1 star

April 25th, 2001 on TV  
   

Snooze... Though I quite liked Dustin Hoffman, I found the whole thing quite dull, except for the occasional "wow, that could really happen" moments.

As satire goes, I suppose this was pretty good. The comedy was subtle, there were over-the-top moments where the characters get carried away with what they are doing, there were complications that arise, and when everybody is about to give up, somebody comes up with another outrageous solution.

But I didn't really enjoy the movie. Perhaps I wasn't in the mood, but the whole thing was rather boring. I kept hoping the President would make an appearance and do something to screw up the plans of the people trying to save his career.

The whole thing takes place right after a teen girl accuses the President (offscreen) of sexual harassment. His damage control team takes over while he's in China on a diplomatic mission. They decide to present the press with rumors about a possible nuclear bomb in the possession of Albanian terrorists. They go to such lengths to create a realistic-looking war that the producer (Hoffman's character) gets offended when told he can't continue it past election day, in less than two weeks. 

They put together a couple of news clips showing the extent of the damage in Albania, complete with young innocents and animals (the scene where they try to decide on a cat was pretty funny). And while this alleged war is taking place, the newspapers almost completely forget about the sexual harassment case. The public gets so wrapped up in this that they do completely forget about it, and the approval rating of the President keeps going up.

The production hits a snag when the CIA try to stop them. But the creator of this "war" somehow manages to convince the CIA that it is necessary, so they simply tell the press that the Albanian crisis has come to a close. The producer is devastated. The election is still a week away! And this was his greatest production!

So he decides to create act two, where they "discover" that a soldier has been left behind the lines. They paint a telling story of his courage, and the rescue efforts to save him. They decide to bring the soldier home just a day (or so) before the election. Imagine their surprise when they discover the man they have been trumping up is actually a soldier who was sentences to life in prison twelve years ago when he raped a nun. Through a series of crises, their plane crashes, the soldier takes a liking to another woman, and ends up dead because of it. 

They were lucky. Now they just have to present the dead body. 

All throughout this, the challenger to the President can't believe what is happening. He calls for the President to respond to the sexual harassment charges, and he wants to know when the soldier will arrive back. He is rather annoying, but is also the voice of reason that keeps falling on dead ears.

They also get to take pot-shots at the strange commercials that run during the elections. "Don't change horses in mid stride" or something like that. Their reactions to this were pretty funny.

But the characters did nothing for me. Dustin Hoffman's character was actually kind of fun, in the way he reluctantly came on board, then took over, and started writing the "script" himself, and finally got really obsessed about it. The others were almost non-existent, even Robert De Niro (who I have never really liked).

The bottom line?  Although it was amusing in parts, it just didn't hold my interest.  At all.  And when I nearly turn a movie off several times throughout, I know something is wrong.  It was by no means abysmal, but not good enough for a pass.

 
   

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