A title like Wrong Is Right prompts suspicion. Do the filmmakers believe this? Do they think bad is good? Slow is fast? Boring is interesting?
Comfortingly, the title turns out to be ironic. The world is a mess, says this very dark comedy, and our values seem topsy-turvy nowadays. People act as if day were night, or . . . you get the picture.
Not so comfortingly, the movie is a mess, too. Oh, it's very ambitious -- a ''Dr. Strangelove'' for the '80s, aimed at roasting all kinds of social and political sacred cows. But few of the film's potshots hit their targets. What might have been a refreshing satirical snack becomes a bloated orgy of iconoclasm. The result is overstuffed and undernourished.
The main character is a TV newsman (Sean Connery) investigating the death of a colleague. Soon he's mixed up with a fanatical Arab ruler, an ineffectual President of the United States, and an evil armaments dealer who wants to auction two atomic bombs to the highest bidder. Skulduggery is rampant in the White House, the desert sands, the city streets. The politicians all talk like vacillating bureaucrats from Joseph Heller's novel ''Good as Gold.'' Apocalypse looms behind every plot twist.
In the tradition of such hits as ''Dr. Strangelove'' and ''One, Two, Three,'' most of this is played for laughs. There are jokes about terrorism, international tension, secret White House tapes, CIA assassinations, even nuclear holocaust. Sadly, they aren't the kind of jokes that cut through equivocation and clear the air of hypocrisy. They are nervous titters, superficially decked out in liberal trappings and elaborate cinematics. Eventually the nervous atmosphere gets so thick it chokes the comic flow altogether - and looking for a way out, the filmmakers don't resolve the story, they simply finesse it.
In fairness to ''Wrong Is Right,'' apocalyptic comedy is a hard genre to bring off. ''One, Two, Three,'' about the Berlin Wall, is one of Billy Wilder's weakest movies; and even the legendary ''Dr. Strangelove, or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb'' has plenty of strained moments. Richard Brooks , the writer and director of ''Wrong Is Right,'' has made some considerable films, from ''Cat on a Hot Tin Roof'' to ''Elmer Gantry'' and ''In Cold Blood.'' He has the courage of his convictions, and isn't afraid to inject a movie with ideas. His latest ideas are fuzzy, though, and he only confuses them by stirring in outraged humor and James Bond-style adventure. ''Wrong Is Right' tries to be an intellectual epic comedy thriller -- a bold mix, to say the least. But its force is muffled by its bulk. Despite its good intentions, it's a dud.