Wrong is Right bills itself as comedy, but it works better as a mediocre spy thriller with occasional bursts of humor. It largely fails as a comedy because, for the most part, it’s often hard to tell at what they were aiming their humor. As political satire, it’s too broad and too tame to be effective.
As a spy thriller, the plot is a mish-mash that falls apart in a second if stop to think that long. Sean Connery plays a globetrotting TV journalist whose exploits are bigger news than the events he reports. George Grizzard is an embattled American President and Leslie Nielsen is his political rival. We also have a black female Vice-President (Rosalind Cash), a hawkish (and slightly unhinged) general (Robert Conrad), a Qaddafi-like terrorist leader (Henry Silva) and a Saudi king (Ron Moody) who may or may not be losing his mind. Add a variety of spys, spooks and arms dealers (John Saxon, Katherine Ross, G.D. Spradlin and Hardy Kruger) and you have a big, talented cast with not much to do.
What makes Wrong Is Right significant in this post-9/11 world, despite its failings as movie, is its unnerving prescience about the future of terrorism and America’s place in the world. The novel on which this film was based, The Better Angels by Charles McCarry, can claim the distinction of inventing the idea of the suicide bomber. The idea of the U.S. going to war in the Middle East over dubious claims of terrorists possessing weapons of mass destruction, specifically atomic bombs, is central to the plot. The discovery of the aforementioned bombs dangling from an antenna on top of the World Trade Center is probably far more chilling now than the filmmakers could ever have intended.
The original novel, and most of McCarry’s work, was quite well-reviewed and it’s a shame that a better movie couldn’t have been made from it. The book was a serious spy thriller and had the filmmakers taken the material seriously, they might have come up with something worthy of the talent involved.
As it is, I suspect the producers wanted to take a page out of Stanley Kubrick‘s Dr. Strangelove, by adapting a serious work of fiction into a doomsday comedy. The mushroom cloud behind Sean Connery in the film’s advertising seems to make that connection explicit. Unfortunately, the film lacks Kubrick’s audacity and therefore lightning did not strike twice.