Wag the Dog is drawing comparisons to Network, and the comparisons are apt -- like Network, Wag the Dog is a facile satire that's nowhere near as smart as it thinks it is. Unlike Network (a film I truly loathe), however, Wag the Dog is actually *funny* at times. Major credit for this goes to Dustin Hoffman's hysterical turn as the self-absorbed, insecure Hollywood producer Stanley Motss. He's so detached and monomaniacially concerned with keeping "the show" going that he ends up as a sympathetic anti-hero; his joy at pulling off the Albania war scam is so childlike that you start rooting for him. It's his second great performance of the year, after his vastly underrated work in Mad City.
Unfortunately, his role is apparently the only one that was thought of as a character, as every other character is a mouthpiece for the screenplay's glib lines instead of actual breathing human beings. While it suits De Niro's shadowy spin doctor Conrad Breem (played with too much of a twinkle in the eye to make his more sinister actions late in the film credible), presidential aide Winifred Ames (Anne Heche) comes across (except for one profanity-laced tirade) as an unnecessary third wheel. (Her winning the Best Supporting Actress from the National Board of Review for this and Donnie Brasco is utterly inexplicable, acting-wise.) Several other well-known names turn up in cameos, with Woody Harrelson turning in a much-too-broad performance as the dumb, psychotic hick picked to be the "hero" of the "war".
Even with these flaws, it's a cheeky romp that's fitfully entertaining, though some of the gags are belabored -- the "We Are The World"-like song overstays its welcome, in particular; and several scenes, such as when Ames and Breem are interrogated by William H. Macy's CIA agent, fall flat. And there's a running gag aboul illegal aliens that simply doesn't work.