A stillborn satire of media manipulation within the high-stakes TV news biz, “Michael Kael vs. the World News Company” is a clumsy attempt to expand characters and situations that began as comic sketches on two popular French cable shows. “Wag the Dog”-like, phony-war tale concerning a naive reporter could have been irreverent, timely and scathing; instead, it squanders most of its possibilities by assuming viewers will find the bumbling title protagonist and his ethical quandary irresistible. This misfire for (otherwise shrewd) producer Charles Gassot will travel only on whatever marquee value Victoria Principal, Elliott Gould and Mickey Rooney may inspire offshore.
Story centers on a journalist who disrupts the cynical collusion between a CNN-type entity and covert operators in Washington. It’s Dec. 14, 1999, at Miami-based international news giant WNC, where star co-anchors Leila Parker (Principal) and James Denit (William Atherton) hate each other’s guts. Their boss, Coogan (Gould), reminds them they pull in top ratings as a pair.
Apoplectic network head Griffith (Rooney), who speaks through an amplifier held directly to his throat, advises his staff they’re about to break a story that will make the O.J. Simpson trial and the moon landing look like filler. To cover the event — actually a scheme code-named Operation Crazy Guru, designed to get the U.S. president re-elected for a (now-unconstitutional) third term — the net needs a gullible reporter. Michael Kael (Benoit Delepine), WNC’s ineffectual correspondent in Paris, fits the bill.
Kael is thrilled when he’s assigned to the African town of Katango to cover a two-day festival of Franco-African dance. By an odd coincidence, Katango is swarming with correspondents from rival news outfits. Sure enough, regular programming is interrupted the world over to telecast a tape of a Japanese wacko announcing plans to drop nuclear warheads and chemical weapons on half the planet in a matter of days.
The tapes were posted from Katango, which means the sieve-brained Kael is the net’s point man in the field. But when Kael stumbles on proof that the “guru” threat is fake, he throws the entire operation into chaos. Dismayingly broad farce ensues.
Shot on location in Madagascar and Miami, pic looks and feels cheap. (U.S. thesps performed in English, and their voices are dubbed for French release.) The staging of phony war effects comes off OK, but results are several notches shy of techniques afoot in “Dog.”
Marine Delterme, as a humanitarian doctor with other plans up her safari-jacket sleeve, and Feodor Atkine, as a retired military honcho, lend a few bright moments, but intended yocks are mostly lame and the pic’s punch line is feeble. First-time feature helmer Christophe Smith previously directed Delepine’s comedy sketches for two hit shows on cable giant Canal Plus.
George Bush is thanked in the closing credits for the “scenario.” Pic’s creators say they were inspired by the buildup to and coverage of the Persian Gulf War.