It was in David Mamet’s play Edmond that the words he wrote ring more truer and have more significance today than ever before.
“All of us. All of us. We’re doomed.”
He clearly wasn’t thinking about President Donald Trump, nor had he yet to write the screenplay for the 1997 Barry Levinson film Wag the Dog starring Robert DeNiro and Dustin Hoffman, but being a student of politics and satire and the kinds of ridiculous things that human beings can do; he clearly was prescient in some minimal yet significant way.
But that’s not the story. The story is that President Donald Trump, always a student of media and promotion and marketing muscle, has taken a page out of the Studios’ Playbook and rebooted the ultimate movie into reality.
He’s rebooted the film Wag the Dog and made it a reality.
For those who haven’t seen the film, the story isn’t startlingly ironic. Weeks prior to a reelection, the United States President lands in the middle of a sex scandal. In need of outside help to quell the situation, presidential adviser Winifred Ames (Anne Heche) enlists the expertise of spin doctor Conrad Brean (Robert De Niro), who decides a distraction is the best course of action. Brean approaches Hollywood producer Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman) to help him fabricate a war in Albania — and once underway, the duo has the media entirely focused on the war.
When you replace “sex scandal” for “Ukraine scandal” and “spin doctor Conrad Brean” with “unhinged lawyer Rudy Giuliani” and “fabricate a war in Albania” with “fabricate a war in Iran” — well, you pretty much have what we’re dubbing Wag the Dog 2: Iran-a-boogaloo.
Longtime allies and friends of Trump, including Uber-Producer Mark Burnett, know that Trump approaches every aspect of his life like it’s a television show. He knows that to distract from one problem, you create an ever bigger problem. He knows that a domestic box office of $63 million for the original Wag the Dog can go so much higher with the kind of money he’s got at his fingertips.
And so, here we are. A real life reboot. An imaginative reimagining. A distraction by the illustrious Distractor himself.
You can be on one side of politics or the other; that doesn’t much matter here. You can be for the killing of a man who killed many of our own, or against such a thing. That’s not the debate here. But what we can all agree with, here in this moment, is that if President Donald Trump was going to reboot a Hollywood movie concept into a real world news-making war, the least he could do is pick something that is more well-known and did better than $63 million at the box office.
Sorry, New Line Cinema.
That’s the real story.
Pick Edge of Tomorrow, instead, perhaps? With over $370 million in domestic box office and a potential sequel in the works, why not bend that narrative to the Iran situation? Why not suggest, in the kind of conspiracy-like narrative Trump loves, that their own National Guard is more like a troop of invincible aliens encroaching upon all parts of the Middle East? Why not take a White House spokesperson like Stephanie Grisham, and send her into the middle of it all, with one goal and one goal only? To strike at the heart of the Iranian infrastructure with a ragtag band of freedom fighters whose only goal is to push the encroachers back? And if you can stage a final battle around Paris’ Louvre? Even better.
Or what about the $817 million domestic box office that Roland Emmerich brought to bare in Independence Day? Wouldn’t the domestic farming community (i.e. Randy Quaid) find glory in rallying their own ragtag group of agriculturally-enhanced freedom fighters traveling abroad to take down the biggest mother ship of them all? I.e. the Iranian mother ship? The flyover states would really rally behind such a David v. Goliath narrative and there’s always time for a Bill Pullman-esque speech of Freedom which would give President Trump (probably) the biggest crowd of onlookers ever.
I’m just saying, there’s better movies to emulate than Wag the Dog.
Then again, it’s the $178 million domestic box office of Patriot Games, that we’d have preferred President Trump really double down with. For what would be more inspiring and more beneficial to his reelection campaign, than going Mano a Mano with Soleimani like Harrison Ford’s Jack Ryan did with Sean Bean’s splinter cell leader Sean Miller? Wouldn’t America rally behind President Trump impaling Soleimani on an anchor and killing him much like Jack Ryan did to Sean Miller? Wouldn’t Trump barreling into the Middle East on his own and handling it solve every political challenge he’s got before him?
Yes. Yes it would.
For a President so happy to volunteer his entertainment prowess, couldn’t he have just picked a movie to copy that had a better domestic box office and stronger narrative? With a real character arc and third act ticking clock that could get us really excited?
This whole Wag the Dog thing?
Not so inspired.