Thursday, August 17, 2006

Wrong Is Right

An easily distracted United States President, who isn't trusted by the people, starts a war in the Middle East because a terrorist may or may not have weapons of mass destruction. Politicians caution the soldiers to make sure not to blow up the oil wells there. Gasoline skyrockets to more than $3.00 per gallon at U.S. pumps. America's image in the eyes of the world as a trusted ally goes down the toilet. Suicide bombers strike New York City. Life today as we know it, right?
In 1982, this was considered science fiction. Satire. Black comedy. Richard Brooks, the liberal filmmaker behind BLACKBOARD JUNGLE and ELMER GANTRY, wrote, produced, and directed WRONG IS RIGHT, a thematically ambitious political satire for Columbia Pictures that died at the box office. And with good reason--it isn't very good.
Based on a novel (that I haven't read), WRONG IS RIGHT is jumbled storytelling, a confusing mishmash of deceit, doublecrossing, and American politics as usual. It has a deep anti-American tone. No film studio would have the guts to bankroll this film today, and it's a shock that Columbia did then. It's obvious that the studio had little faith in it, however. It looks cheap and couldn't have cost very much to make. Fred Koenekamp (THE TOWERING INFERNO) was a very fine cinematographer, but WRONG IS RIGHT looks flat like a TV show. The special effects are dismal, although, to be fair, some of it is probably intended that way.
Sean Connery stars as Patrick Hale, a super-badass television news reporter who becomes embroiled in an arms deal between an Arab king (Ron Moody) and a Muslim terrorist (Henry Silva) obviously based on Muammar Gaddafi. U.S. President Lockwood (George Grizzard) orders the king's assassination, and news of his involvement turn public opinion deeply against him and for the opposite party's candidate, Mallory (Leslie Nielsen). Meanwhile, Silva buys two atom bombs from a German arms dealer (Hardy Kruger) and threatens to blow up New York City unless Lockwood resigns and is tried on television for murder. We learn near the end that the bombs are dangling from a flagpole atop one of the Twin Towers, which makes for some shudder-inducing imagery.
John Saxon plays a shady CIA agent. Robert Conrad is a crazed general named Wombat. Rosalind Cash is the black Vice President. Katharine Ross plays a spy. Dean Stockwell is the President's Chief of Staff. Robert Webber is Connery's boss who loves the violence as long as it keeps the Nielsens high. G.D. Spradlin is the CIA chief. Jennifer Jason Leigh has a small role unconnected to Brooks' main story. It's a helluva cast, and if WRONG IS RIGHT is worth watching at all, it's to see these folks work. Some scenes have Connery, Saxon, Grizzard, Conrad, Cash, Spradlin, and Stockwell acting together.
Ultimately, though, WRONG IS RIGHT really isn't worth seeing, no matter how (sadly) prescient it is. As much as it speaks out against politics, it lampoons television and its predilection for disguising entertainment as news, "if it bleeds, it leads." NETWORK already covered this territory (and better), and Connery's wildly unconvincing newsman (who sits in on top-secret military strategy conferences) doesn't ring enough of truth to work as satire.
Some of WRONG IS RIGHT is eerie, though. Almost as if the late Brooks had ridden a time machine 25 years in the future before directing it.

1 comment:

L. Rob Hubb said...

I obviously thought more of the film than you did...