Wag the Dog

Newcity Chicago

DIRECTED BY: Barry Levinson

REVIEWED: 01-05-98

A cynical satire about Hollywood and Washington make-believe, "Wag the Dog" is a hilarious exercise. Made in under a month for a low Hollywood budget (about $15 million), Barry Levinson's direction of David Mamet's script is unusually energetic and lively. When the President is accused of molesting a Girl Scout, what to do? D.C. spin doctor Robert DeNiro calls in Hollywood producer Dustin Hoffman, and together they concoct a blitz against the Albanian Menace to distract the nation before the upcoming election. Hoffman is dazzling throughout, and the rest of the cast seems content to stand back and let him play out one of the most nuanced cartoons ever seen on screen. Wheedling, self-regarding, inspired in the most appalling manner, Hoffman's character is one that both sends up and comforts Hollywood's idea of itself. Still, however jokey and smug, the film kept me grinning throughout, far more than in similar media-politico satires such as "Bob Roberts." Like a far slicker version of the kind of variety-show sketches Levinson began his career writing, "Wag the Dog" has a slick topicality that satisfies, and the cast does their utmost with lines such as DeNiro's "Like Plato said, it doesn't matter how the fuck you get there... as long as you get there" and "If Kissinger can win the Peace Prize, I wouldn't be surprised to wake up and find I'd won the Preakness." Among the rest of the cast: Anne Heche as DeNiro's right-hand woman; Woody Harrelson as a psychotic-turned-hero; Willie Nelson; and Denis Leary as the fast-talking "Fad King." 97m.

--Ray Pride

Wag the Dog

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