Monday, October 16, 2006

Comic Failure of the Year?

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Let me be brief: Man of the Year (* out of ****), to put it crudely, sucks ass. Sure, it has a few mildly amusing bits from Robin Williams, playing a fake-TV-news comedian named Tom Dobbs who decides to run for U.S. president and wins. Sure, it has one amusing comic speech from Lewis Black (perhaps anyone who's actually seen this mess can tell me what role his character actually plays among Tom Dobbs' circle of friends) about why he's afraid of TV (he says something to the effect of "it makes everything seem real and contradictory"). And sure, it has Christopher Walken, playing Dobbs' campaign manager, giving what is probably the only genuinely inspired comic performance among the entire cast---he gives every line of his some kind of jazzy twist.

But Man of the Year represents a monumental missed opportunity otherwise. How could you miss with such a great, timely premise? A Jon Stewart-like fake newscaster gets elected into public office? As those animated Irish men in those Guinness commercials yell, "Brilliant!" Turns out Barry Levinson, the writer/director of this film, actually has something different in mind. The trailer misleads: this isn't really a political satire at all. If anything, it's meant to be some sort of thriller---although one so limp and ineffective that I can't help but question why Levinson even bothered---in which Eleanor Green (Laura Linney), a former employee of an electronics-voting company, realizes the company is trying to cover-up a glitch in the system that allowed Dobbs to get elected, and thus tries to expose them while eluding their vicious grasp. Yes, you heard that right: this movie isn't really about blowing the lid off the political machine at all. It's about a faulty voting machine and an evil corporation. How low can you go?

Don't get me wrong: I'm not complaining just because Man of the Year delivered something I didn't expect judging from a trailer. (Critics should never evaluate a movie based on the way it's marketed, I don't think.) What it does deliver, however, is ultimately lacking in anything resembling satirical sting or insight or even conviction. Yeah, so the political and corporate world is full of corruption and selfish, greedy, power-hungry men. For some people, that ain't news at all. So voters sometimes have a tendency to emphasize a political candidate's image over substance. Yawn; I've been hearing that from politically-minded professors here at Rutgers for years now.

The worst thing about Man of the Year is that Robin Williams---whose 2002 Live on Broadway HBO special, while perhaps overlong by about half-an-hour, is still one of the more amazing comedy performances I've seen---isn't even all that funny in this one. I'd like to think that's not his fault; maybe all he needed was a better writer/director than Levinson to release his natural manic energy. Granted, he's not bad at suggesting a character who uses humor to mask vulnerability---a direction that the incoherent script never even bothers to explore---but this ultimately seems more Patch Adams than Adrian Cronauer, if you know what I mean. Besides, all of his best lines were given away in the trailer, and his "stand-up" material in this film maybe adds up to about five minutes at best---and this movie lasts a little less than 2 hours!

I don't have much more to say about this dreck except: it's a bloody failure. By all means, skip it and watch The Daily Show instead.

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