The President of the United States becomes caught up in a sexual scandal just 11 days before his expectant reelection. Political spin doctor Conrad Brean (Robert De Niro) is called in to fight this particular fire. What he comes up with is a fictional conflict with the nation of Albania to throw the spotlight off of the scandal. In order to pull it off, though, he needs some filmed corroboration to give to the press, and that’s where his friend, Hollywood producer Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman), comes in.
Motss, along with several protégés, helps Brean come up with a sympathetic angle and then casts, shoots, edits and delivers the footage in short order. He even goes so far as to have songwriter Johnny Green (Willie Nelson) pen a song that will underline this particular strategy. Unfortunately, the producer is a little too proud of his work and is constantly intimating his desire to tell this tasty little story one day. Because of the delicacy of the situation, this particular story can never be told. Consequently Motss’ unswayable enthusiasm places Brean in a difficult position.
"Wag the Dog" is satire at its most biting. Filmed in a low-key manner by Oscar-winning director Barry Levinson, it exposes the manipulative underbelly that we strongly suspected was at heart of the political process. However, when the story turns from the changing of public opinion to the solving of one unlikely complication after another, its edge is lost. Dustin Hoffman’s on-key performance not withstanding, "Wag the Dog" ultimately fails to satisfy because of this fatal flaw.