Man Of The Year

2006, Movie, PG-13, 115 mins

Review

MAN OF THE YEAR
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Packaged as a rollicking political comedy, writer-director Barry Levinson's much-ballyhooed reunion with Robin Williams, his GOOD MORNING VIETNAM (1987) and TOYS (1992) star, wobbles unsteadily between broad humor and paranoid thrills. The result is a bland muddle, told — for no apparent reason — in flashback by wheelchair-bound Jack Menken (Christopher Walken). It begins at a preshow warm-up, as popular late-night TV personality Tom Dobbs (Williams) readies his audience for another round of potshots at politicians. One girlish fan suggests that since most elected officials are a bad joke, Dobbs himself might as well run for president. Dobbs treats the idea as a fodder for his gag mill, only to be confronted by a groundswell of Internet-driven support. So Team Dobbs takes the campaign show on the road. Unfortunately, Dobbs persists in getting all serious about issues, no matter how hard Jack, his loyal, longtime manager and advisor, and acerbic head writer Eddie Langston (Lewis Black) press for a little of his trademark irreverence. That is, until the televised debates, which Dobbs aces by taking pompous President Kellogg (David Nichols) and challenger Senator Mills (David Ferry) to task for toeing party lines and sucking up to oil companies. Come Election Day, the votes start rolling in for Dobbs. Meanwhile, brilliant Delacroy Voting Systems programmer Eleanor Green (Laura Linney) is facing down her venal bosses (Rick Roberts, Jeff Goldblum), who ignored memos about a bug in their vote-tallying software and now warn Eleanor not to go public with her doubts about the results rolling in. Worried about her stubborn streak of integrity, they have Eleanor drugged into a credibility-destroying freak-out and then fire her. They neglect to lock her out of the network, an oversight they bitterly regret as she persists in trying to identify the glitch she's convinced made a comedian the president elect. Levinson adds unconvincing romance, sinister men in black cars, the ghastly sight of Williams addressing Congress in George Washington drag, Jack's cigarette-fueled health crisis and a race to the set of Saturday Night Live (as though SNL matters to anyone in 2006), but the film still runs out of steam long before it shambles to its unsatisfying conclusion. Walken's bone-dry barbs are consistently funnier than Williams' manic but bloodless jabs (carefully spread across the political spectrum), and Levinson was far sharper in WAG THE DOG (1997), which positively vibrates with righteous fury at the self-serving machinations of venal politicos and their amoral handlers. Political satire that fails to offend is the definition of pointless. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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