Abraham Lincoln once said, “You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” Clearly, Honest Abe never met anyone like Conrad Brean -- a master political strategist who manipulates the American electorate in Wag the Dog. Played confidently by Robert De Niro, this mysterious spin doctor takes over the President’s campaign for re-election when the Chief Executive becomes involved in a scandal that could ruin his chances for a second term.
Brean comes to the rescue by recruiting Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman), a famous Hollywood producer, to manufacture a war that will take attention away from the scandal. And what a war he delivers! With the help of special effects, computerized images, TV news bulletins, patriotic songs, and imaginary heroes, Motss manages to save the day. But what does a successful film producer want more than money? You guessed it – recognition! Unfortunately, Motss can’t let anyone know about his great accomplishment. Or can he?
As the spoiled Hollywood producer, Hoffman adds another incredible performance to a very long list including Rain Man, Tootsie, The Graduate, Little Big Man and Kramer vs. Kramer. During one unforgettable Wag the Dog scene, I actually felt the producer’s frustration when the President insists that a white cat be used instead of a calico cat in the initial fake war footage. “I just hate it when they meddle,” Motss complains to one of his many technical aides.
While this entertaining film works remarkable well most of the time, scenes with Woody Harrelson as a convict selected to impersonate a war hero seem to belong in another movie entirely. Plus Anne Heche mumbles some of her lines as a presidential assistant. On the other hand, Willie Nelson shines as songmeister Johnny Green. It’s a treat to watch him compose a stirring war song with lyrics that rhyme with Albania. And the star pairing of De Niro and Hoffman is pure casting perfection.
Wag the Dog, a movie that’s fun to see more than once, comes across as a bitingly funny satire of politics, the media and show business.
(Released New Line Cinema and rated "R" for language.)