"Wag the Dog" is a biting satire of U.S. Presidential
politics. It has been compared to "Dr. Strangelove", and
indeed it is similar in feel: both films mine for
humor by demonstrating how ludicrous seemingly ordinary
events and conversations can become, when the participants
have lost their perspective of what they are doing.
But "Wag the Dog" is no "Dr. Strangelove". It is too
talky, too self-satisfied, too cynical, and often annoying
in its excessive (and needless) use of obscenity. While
there is a grain of truth in this tale of spin doctors
replacing reality with phony and manipulating images,
the notion is remarkably condescending that the media
and the public would follow like sheep in whatever direction
they are led.
The plot has the President getting into an unrecoverable
scandal two weeks before re-election. He has had perhaps
non-consensual sex with an underage girl, and this is the
subject of many sly jokes (as if it could actually be funny).
Robert De Niro plays a Presidential aide who wants the U.S.
to start a war with Albania to take the focus from the President's
shenanigans. He enlists Hollywood producer Dustin Hoffman,
idea man Denis Leary, and songwriter Willie Nelson to
fabricate this war and its images. Things get even more
preposterous as a soldier chosen randomly to be a war hero
turns out to be a psychotic nun-raper (This is also supposed
to be funny: Does Hollywood believe that rape is a subject
Sometimes the black comedy does find its target. Willie Nelson
conducts a group of singers slogging their phony way through
a manipulative song, and the satire catches it perfectly.
Also effective are political ads with the lame slogan
"Don't change horses in mid-stream" that appear endlessly
on TV monitors. But while it is good to see the taboo against
parodying U.S. patriotism broken, the joke of tossing old
shoes in support of servicemen is a groaner.
On the whole, this film is a major disappointment.
The depiction of a presidential administration that is essentially
controlled by spin artists creating fantasy events for
short term media payoffs, swallowed whole by the media and
a public that completely ignores substance for spectacle,
is smug and shallow and (worst of all) not often funny.
Copyright © 1997 Brian Koller