We have been seduced by a howlingly funny satire of today's politics that, on quick second thought, is also a stinging preview of what lies ahead in a profession unhindered by integrity.

WAG THE DOG

A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.


"Wag the Dog" is a delicious political satire that shoots poisoned darts gleefully at its chosen targets. David Mamet and Hilary Henkin have written a crackling screenplay that succeeds in sending up politicians of all persuasions with an impartiality borne of the belief that, whatever the face, they're all the same. No partisan distractions here.

Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro, acting a bravura duet as two presidential spin doctors, enlist us in their conspiracy to do what they do best: con the American public on behalf of their clients. With fine support from Ann Heche, William H. Macy, Willie Nelson, and Woody Harrelson, they set out to save the president from a blunder certain to deny him a second term.

As the film opens, an earnest presidential staff group makes its way down through several layers of protected White House space to a secure basement war room, where they meet in deepest secrecy with the political world's ace Mr. Fix-it, Conrad Brean (Robert De Niro). Conrad establishes his credentials so surely and quickly that we never doubt for a moment that he can save a president who has just violated a Firefly girl scout during the three minutes they were alone on a White House tour.

Can Conrad lie and obfuscate for the eleven days remaining before the election? He will deny and distract by constructing an external threat to the United States. If he has to produce a phony war, he'll do it to save the man who is paying him.

If war is a pageant, who should direct it? Conrad flies to Hollywood to enlist Stanley (Dustin Hoffman), a flamboyant Hollywood director with an Everest-size ego. Together, they manufacture salvation out of stomach flu, the non-existent B-3 bomber, terrorists, and an outrageous assortment of lies. As they take us on a speed trip through Washington hypocrisy, the belly laughs roll through the theater. Our cynicism about government has found volcanic expression.

And then the worm turns. As we watch the flaks and politicians peddling their fraud to the populace, it becomes clear that we in the audience, who are laughing so heartily, are being manipulated in exactly the same way in real life. The president has become product, and we are consumers. The filmmakers have turned a subversive and extremely clever trick: their movie is an inside joke, and we are the outsiders. Suddenly our laughter carries a chill.

As the flimflam techmen key in beguiling images of the president as product, we realize that the quaint phrase of the 1900s, "The camera never lies," has been replaced by the new century's "Never trust a picture." We have been seduced by a howlingly funny satire of today's politics that, on quick second thought, is also a stinging preview of what lies ahead in a profession unhindered by integrity. Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman are master messengers who can deliver the full bite of this wicked humor.


Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 496
Studio : New Line Cinema
Rating : R
Running Time: 2h0m


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