Directed by Barry Levinson, Wag the Dog follows professional spin doctor Conrad Brean (Robert De Niro) as he teams up with a Hollywood producer (Dustin Hoffman’s Stanley Motss) to fabricate a war to cover up a Presidential sex scandal. It’s an intriguing (and relevant, certainly) premise that’s employed to pervasively middling effect by Levinson, as the filmmaker, working from a script by David Mamet and Hilary Henkin, delivers a fairly static drama that contains few elements worth connecting to or wholeheartedly embracing – with the movie’s talk-heavy atmosphere paving the way for a midsection that’s almost entirely free of forward momentum (ie it’s all just so stagy and uninvolving). It’s clear, too, that Levinson’s misguided efforts at eliciting laughs (ie none of this is particularly funny) contributes heavily to the palpably smug vibe, while the various actors, solid as they may be, generally prove unable to transform their thin characters into entirely engrossing figures (ie they predominantly come off as mouthpieces for the various ideas in Mamet and Henkin’s less-than-subtle screenplay). The watchable-yet-underwhelming feel persists right up until around Woody Harrelson’s entrance as an unhinged figure, as the movie, beyond that point, adopts a previously-absent sense of urgency that carries it through to its appropriately grim finale – which ultimately cements Wag the Dog‘s place as a terminally erratic endeavor that misses far more than it hits.
**1/2 out of ****