"Wrong Is Right" is a would-be satirical polemic set in the immediate future. A yammering doomsday fable about international political skulduggery, written and directed by Richard Brooks, it begins with an overblown flourish: "It was a time when no one on Earth was safe from technology . . . that elusive time between now and later, when fair is foul, up is down and wrong is right."
Borrowing devices promiscuously from the James Bond movies (beginning with the casting coup of Sean Connery), as well as "Dr. Strangelove," "Network" and "The Stunt Man," Brooks fiddles with an overcomplicated suspense plot between hot flashes of sermonizing. The plot is ill-equipped for deception and the pointlessness of the scheming tends to eliminate sporting interest.
Lured into another inferior starring role, Connery plays a smug media celebrity named Patrick Hale, whose status as newscast superstar of the World Television Network permits him to enjoy the run of the planet. It's typical of Brooks' confusion that he remains uncertain whether Hale exists to be satirized as a vain, cynical opportunist or envied as a glamorous, swashbuckling know-it-all and power-broker. Ultimately, Brooks is too infatuated with his own commentary to judge a mouthpiece like Hale harshly.
A slavish camera crew seems to record Hale's every word and gesture as he cruises around the globe to impose his personality on hot spots, consort with potentates and lord it over mere elected officials like the president of the United States. Connery is first seen skimming across the desert in a modified sailboat. An attendant camera van dutifully keeps pace. Suddenly they have a Picture Opportunity: A reckless limo speeds into view and inexplicably runs Hale off the road.
This brusque, implausible incident is supposed to set off a melodramatic chain reaction that culminates in a threat of nuclear blackmail, aimed at a politically weakened president (George Grizzard) by a Middle Eastern fanatic (Henry Silva) who acquires a pair of nuclear devices. In outline it's a typical Bond movie crisis, but the threat never acquires sufficient clarity or urgency to keep the movie pointed in an effective melodramatic direction.
Brooks leads you to believe that the blackmail threat justifies the prompt, clandestine preventive measure on the part of the president, carried out by the CIA. No alternative is even suggested under the circumstances. Nevertheless, moments later Brooks finds it convenient to pretend that the president is vulnerable to a charge of coldblooded murder and faces both political ruin and international censure. Although he appears to have saved the lives of a few million countrymen by authorizing a Dirty Trick, this little detail no longer merits consideration. If Brooks wants a foundation for heaping abuse on his symbolic cardboard characters, he's really obliged to clarify his plot or cure his amnesia.
Once averted, the blackmail threat is then absent-mindedly revived. The film goes through a clumsy countdown-to-catastrophe routine that fizzles abruptly when the dread weapons are spotted in plain sight and casually disarmed. Having twice misplayed the idea of a victimized America, Brooks flip-flops again and signs off depicting the Americans as lethal warmongers.
"Wrong Is Right" might be the work of a demented cabbie or bag lady, compulsively muttering about the inequity of everything in general and nothing in particular. It's so forlorn that not even the morbid sideshow of a brief, visionary nuclear disaster is likely to stir even the most socially conscious. If it had jumped out of a coherent context, this Fate of the Earth interlude probably would have given Brooks a little cachet, reminiscent of the glow surrounding Stanley Kramer at the time "On the Beach" was released. Now Brooks is too far gone to be anyone's favorite alarmist.