Wag the Dog (1997) - Rotten Tomatoes

Wag the Dog1997

Wag the Dog (1997)



Critic Consensus: Smart, well-acted, and uncomfortably prescient political satire from director Barry Levinson and and all-star cast.

Wag the Dog Photos

Movie Info

This political satire seems to almost predict the events in the Clinton sex scandal. After the President is caught with a Girl Scout, he hires a Hollywood producer to create a fake war and bring home a fictionalized war-hero to gain support. Problems arise when the insane war-hero dies.

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Dustin Hoffman
as Stanley Motss
Robert De Niro
as Conrad Brean
Anne Heche
as Winifred Ames
Denis Leary
as Fad King
Woody Harrelson
as Sgt. William Schumann
Willie Nelson
as Johnny Green
Andrea Martin
as Liz Butsky
Michael Belson
as President
Suzanne Cryer
as Amy Cain
Kirsten Dunst
as Tracy Lime
William H. Macy
as Mr. Young
Craig T. Nelson
as Senator Neal
Harland Williams
as Pet Wrangler
Sean Masterson
as Bob Richardson
Bernard Hocke
as Technician
Maurice Woods
as Kid With Shoes
Pops Staples
as Himself
Phil Morris
as Co-Pilot
Chris Ellis
as Officer
Jennifer Manley
as Teenage Girl
Richard Lawson
as Young Man/CIA
Drena De Niro
as Gate Stewardess
Alberto Vasquez
as Combine Driver
Stephanie Kemp
as Aide No. 1
Jack Esformes
as Aide No. 2
John Cho
as Aide No. 3
Brant Cotton
as Sharon's Boyfriend
Kenneth Kern
as Nashville Engineer
Ron McCoy
as Limo Driver
Derrick Morgan
as CIA Agent
Garry R. Roleder
as USAF Chaplain
Jim Belushi
as Himself
George Gaynes
as Senator Nole
Rick Scarry
as White House Reporter
Furley Lumpkin
as Raking Dad No. 1
Sean Fenton
as Raking Dad No. 2
John Franklin
as Jockey No. 1
Kevin Furlong
as Jockey No. 2
Lu Elrod
as Southern Woman
Michael Villani
as Male Commentator
Warren Wilson
as Crossfire Interviewer
Terry Anzur
as Female Announcer No. 3
Melissa Gardner
as Chris Andrews Reporter
Giselle Fernandez
as Female Press Person
Christine Devine
as Chicago Newscaster
Richard Saxton
as Chicago Newscaster No. 2
Geffrey Blake
as Media Guy No. 1
Jerry Levine
as Media Guy No. 2
Jack Shearer
as Sklansky
Emmett Miller
as News Break Reporter
Bill Handel
as Reporter No. 7
Arlene Afshangol
as Albanian Girl
Hope Garber
as Albanian Grandmother
Gina Menza
as Press Room Reporter
Maggie Mellin
as Mrs. Rose
Tom Murray
as Aircraft Carrier Reporter
Shirley Prestia
as Moderator Named Shirley
Ralph Tabakin
as Southern Man
Marguerite Moreau
as Teenage Girl in Audience
Jay Leno
as Himself
Nicole Avant
as `American Dream' Singer
Tom Bahler
as `American Dream' Singer
Michael Allen Carter
as `American Dream' Singer
Carmen Carter
as `American Dream' Singer
Lance Eaton
as `American Dream' Singer
Karen Geraghty
as `American Dream' Singer
Jim Gilstrap
as `American Dream' Singer
Jennifer Gross
as `American Dream' Singer
Wendy Lou Halvorsen
as `American Dream' Singer
Anthony Holiday
as `American Dream' Singer
Brad Kalas
as `American Dream' Singer
Billy Trudel
as `American Dream' Singer
Mark Vieha
as `American Dream' Singer
Julia Waters
as `American Dream' Singer
Oren Waters
as `American Dream' Singer
Maxine Waters Willard
as `American Dream' Singer
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News & Interviews for Wag the Dog

Critic Reviews for Wag the Dog

All Critics (76) | Top Critics (22)

If anything, in the years since its release, the worlds of politics, entertainment, and news media have grown even more intertwined in which narratives are carefully controlled and expectations are minimal.

January 1, 2018 | Full Review…
Top Critic

Hilary Henkin and David Mamet's script is gleefully hyperbolic without ever straying from its political target.

March 30, 2009 | Full Review…

Lazily assembled by director Levinson, it slides into a series of soft, extended skits on engineering a media war, not helped by several badly handled leaps in the story.

January 26, 2006 | Full Review…
Top Critic

Amusing as it is, Wag The Dog does what it purports to sat irize -- the bark is real but the teeth aren't.

April 12, 2002 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…

The pacing is crisp, the dialogue quippy and fast, the tone arch but energetic.

February 14, 2001

A wicked smart satire on the interlocking worlds of politics and show business, Wag the Dog confirms every awful thought you've ever had about media manipulation and the gullibility of the American public.

February 14, 2001 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Wag the Dog


This eccentric little dark comedy was perfectly timed upon its release, a year before the Clinton affair went public. The film deals with a conspiracy to cover up the POTUS' sex scandal with a younger girl by pretending that there will be a war in Albania, on the eve of the election. The film is very dark, filled with one-off performances by everybody from Woody Harrelson to Willie Nelson, and captures the behind the scenes tension of White House politics. Dustin Hoffman was nominated for Best Actor for this film because his portrayal of Motss is enigmatic. Motss is selfish, egotistical, and without any moral capacity. Robert De Niro is also entertaining, but his character mostly stands at the sidelines, happy to be invisible for the benefit of his job, the opposite of Motss. Overall it's a very solid, if unnerving piece of political satire that tickles the funny bone while revealing the darkness of American politics.

Spencer S.
Spencer S.

Super Reviewer


Wag the Dog is an average dark comedy that relies on a great cast and an effective script. Enjoyable, but could have been better, this film is a bit dull at times and suffers from a so-so script. The idea is good, but the result is a decent film that just touches the surface of what it tries to accomplish. The cast were quite good and they clearly try to elevate film's material. This is a decent affair, but it could have been much better than what it turned out to be. I was really looking forward to seeing this one, but I was slightly let down. I expected a much better film than this and though it has a great cast, it never becomes anything truly worthwhile to rewatch again. With its ideas, Wag the Dog could have been a standout feature, but it just ends up being a so0so movie that never really takes off. I thought that there could have been more effort put into this one, and though it is a decent film, it's also quite dull in places and it should have been better. This may appeal to viewers looking for satire, but there are some elements missing to make it the film that it should have been. Enjoyable, but flawed, Wag the Dog is decent fun with a cast that try their best at making this a film watchable experience. The idea makes this film enjoyable, but simply can't shrug off how could this one could have been otherwise. Wag the Dog is fun, and quite decent, but it could have been much better.

Alex roy
Alex roy

Super Reviewer


"A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow." Before elections, a spin-doctor and a Hollywood producer join efforts to "fabricate" a war in order to cover-up a presidential sex scandal.

A political spin doctor, Conrad Brean (Robert De Niro), and a Hollywood producer, Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman), both well endowed with chutzpah, set out to create the illusion that the USA has gone to war with Albania, as a distraction from a Presidential sexual peccadillo. Made and released before the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal broke, it is not clear whether the movie's makers had great insight, or inside knowledge; either way, that episode adds to the interest and relevance of the film. De Niro and Hoffman are both brilliant, though understandably the latter seems especially to relish lampooning a film-world type he must have encountered many times in his career. Anne Heche is just right as a Presidential aide who previously thought she was streetwise, but faced with Brean and Motss realises she's a tyro in the kiddology game; and Woody Harrelson has a wonderful role as the man picked to play the war hero who just happens to be a psychotic convict. Among the targets of the satire are clearly the US political establishment, the broadcasting media and Hollywood; but there is a danger that the primary target may be overlooked, and it is worthwhile remembering the derivation of the film's title. Normally, the dog wags the tail because the dog's smarter than the tail; but if the tail was smarter, it would wag the dog; and there can be little doubt that the dog being wagged by Brean and Motss is the viewing and voting public.

Lorenzo von Matterhorn
Lorenzo von Matterhorn

Super Reviewer

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