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Man of the Year (2006)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"a.k.a. "Death of a Presidential Satire"
1 stars

The good news about “Man of the Year” is that, despite what the commercials suggest, it is not simply two hours of Robin Williams kibitzing in the White House after inadvertently being elected President of the United States, a plot device that didn’t exactly provide a bonanza of comedy in the hands of Chris Rock (“Head of State”) or Bob Newhart (“First Family”) when they tried it. The bad news is that the actual film–the one hidden behind the previews that highlight Williams doing his rapid-fire patter and dressing like George Washington–is so much worse that you’ll find yourself wishing that it actually was just one giant piece of schtick instead of one giant piece of something else.

Williams plays Tom Dobbs, the host of a wildly popular and politically oriented comedy/talk show that is not a million miles removed from “Politically Incorrect,” though the clips we see of Dobbs in action remind us less of Jon Stewart and more of Robin Williams during one of his less-inspired talk show appearances. One night, a member of his studio audience unconvincingly speaks about her despair towards the current political climate and suggests that Dobbs himself should run in the upcoming presidential election. The next day, Dobbs announces his candidacy, promises that he won’t accept any corporate contributions and gets himself placed on the ballot in a handful of key states. Much to the despair of his manager (Christopher Walken) and producer (Lewis Black), Dobbs takes the campaign seriously (though he doesn’t believe that he has a chance of winning) and delivers one earnestly dull stump speech after another instead of the comedic commentary that made him famous in the first place.

Dobbs somehow gets enough support to be invited to a key debate with the Democratic incumbent and the Republican challenger (both seem delighted with this prospect even though there is no chance they would agree to debate on television with someone who knows the medium inside-out) and he chooses that night to finally cut loose. In this case, cutting loose means braying like an idiot, interrupting his fellow debaters and spouting off the same kind of rhetoric about how contemporary political parties are out of touch with the needs of the voters that we have heard in any number of movies about underdogs running for public office. Inexplicably, this nonsense strikes a chord with the debate audience and sparks a groundswell of support that culminated with Dobbs winning all the states where he is on the ballot–by an amazing coincidence, they carry just enough electoral votes to allow him to win the election.

Thankfully, it turns out that there is more to Dobbs’s victory than meets the eye–it was actually the result of a flaw in the software in the new electronic voting machines that were being used for the first time. Instead of correcting the mistake in the first place (at the risk of jeopardizing the stock price), a high-ranking executive (Jeff Goldblum) instead decides to fire and discredit Eleanor (Laura Linney), the employee who noticed the flaw weeks before and who has threatened to go public. After Eleanor finally figures out what the flaw was (the company fires her, pumps her with enough drugs to kill an elephant and otherwise destroys her good name yet somehow forgets to terminate her access to their systems), she makes her to Washington to inform Dobbs that his election was a sham, leaving him in the awkward position of whether he should keep the information secret so that he can actually do some good as President or do the right thing and announce that he didn’t really win.

The plot developments involving the Eleanor character are so insipid that you can’t understand how anyone reading (or writing) the screenplay could have possibly thought that they were handled properly. First, we are expected to believe that the company would be so desperate as to arrange for thugs to break into her apartment and pump her with a ton of drugs while leaving her alive instead of just ponying up the extra $50 to kill her for good and be done with it. Second, we are expected to believe that she is able to just wander up to the President-elect in a nightclub and chat him up without arousing any suspicion, even though she has gone through the pointless charade of impersonating (badly) an FBI agent. Then, when she finally gets Dobbs alone to tell him her important secret . . . she never quite gets around to doing it because it would just be too awkward. A few days later, she goes out to play paintball with him and still isn’t able to tell him the truth. Finally, after a third get-together at Thanksgiving, she finally works up the nerve to tell him what has happened. As a result, the film grinds to an endless halt while waiting for her to finally get things moving again. Why not just have her tell him everything the first time she meets him, have her get killed off immediately afterwards (thereby saving us the endless scenes of her being chased around by mysterious people) and leave Dobbs to decide for himself what to do? As it stands, “Man of the Year” comes across more as a one-hour story that has been outrageously padded in an attempt to get it up to a respectable length.

Another problem with the film is that the entire political campaign of Tom Dobbs is not convincing for a second. Instead of trying to paint a convincing picture of what might actually happen if a Jon Stewart type decided to run for office in a time when polls love to remind us that most young people get their news information from places like “The Daily Show” than from newspapers or traditional news shows, we get another fairy tale that demonstrate virtually no working idea of how the current political process works. This aspect of the film is so sketchy that unless I missed it, there is not a single moment when we learn the identity of who is supposed to be Dobbs’s Vice-President. This is especially shocking when you consider that “Man of the Year” comes from Barry Levinson, the same man who directed “Wag the Dog,” a film that had a strong and perceptive working knowledge of the way politics and politicians are sold and spun today. Of course, that film also had a strong and perceptive screenplay from David Mamet while this one was scribbled by Levinson himself and feels like a first draft that he dashed off years ago (this is a film that still believes that the hippest place for political satire is “Saturday Night Live”) and never honed into a proper narrative.

What is most frustrating about “Man of the Year” is that it brings in a lot of promising elements and then completely wastes them. There is a great black comedy to be had in the subject of the ticking time-bombs that are the electronic voting machines of today–machines that can be easily hacked into and which have no paper trail to prove that a vote is actually credited to the person for whom it was intended–and the manufacturers who would prefer the wrong man be elected President than to admit that they made a mistake. Levinson also raises the possibility that the software glitch might not have been an accident (if Dobbs hadn’t entered, the flaw would have ensured that the incumbent would be the winner) and then does absolutely nothing with it. Instead, we get an endless scene of Dobbs and his buddies playing paintball, Dobbs visiting the White House and discovering the awesome and humbling power of the Oval Office and an amazing array of suspense-free suspense scenes in which the Laura Linney character evades her pursuers only because they are evidently dumber than she is.

Not even the cast can muster enough energy to save “Man of the Year” from complete disposability. Williams is never believable for a second as a populist candidate who speak for the people, the usually reliable Laura Linney and Jeff Goldblum are both dreadful and Lewis Black basically plays himself, only a far less amusing version than the one seen on “The Daily Show” or even the recent “Accepted.” The only bright light in the film comes from the always-reliable Christopher Walken. Sure, there is no real purpose to his character and Levinson has no real idea of what to do with him in the second half but he does get a couple of laughs here and there thanks to his mere presence. Basically, Walken’s job here is to serve as the film’s comedy relief–not a bad idea until you recall that “Man of the Year” is actually supposed to be a comedy in the first place.

“Man of the Year” was written and directed by Barry Levinson, who once again proves himself to be the most wildly inconsistent American filmmaker at work today. With the exception of the films inspired by his hometown of Baltimore (“Diner,” “Tin Men,” “Avalon” and “Liberty Heights”), you never know what you are going to get in a Levinson film. Sometimes he makes a truly great film, as he did with “Bugsy” and “Wag the Dog.” Sometimes he gives us a solid and well-made bit of entertainment, such as “Good Morning Vietnam” or “Rainman.” Sometimes he gives us relentlessly banal pieces of product that feel untouched by human hands like “Disclosure,” “Young Sherlock Holmes” and “Bandits.” And then–and this has begun happening with increasing frequency over the years–he will come up with the likes of “Sphere,” “Jimmy Hollywood” or “Envy,” the kind of all-out disasters that would have killed off the career of any ordinary director. Even by his less-than-stellar track record, “Man of the Year” represents a new career low–a would-be political satire that is so poorly constructed and incompetently made that it almost makes “American Dreamz” look like “Dr. Strangelove by comparison.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15259&reviewer=389
originally posted: 10/13/06 02:28:12
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User Comments

3/01/08 Pamela White Williams is funny but who wrote this stuff 2 stars
4/16/07 Phil M. Aficionado A lame 1-plus or 2-minus of a film but a 5 for squaring with my views of political parties 3 stars
3/14/07 Jason Platt The reason that it was labeled a comedy is because comedies make more money than dramas 4 stars
3/05/07 ES Expecting a zany comedy and received a conspiracy thriller, feel a little violated 2 stars
2/25/07 the wizz not too happy w/ this movie, Not a great plot, total shit! 2 stars
11/14/06 William Goss A better drama than comedy, which hurts cast. Linney is better than it deserves. 2 stars
10/31/06 Pokejedservo Uneven, a good comedy but a rather so-so drama, but it was entertaining to me. 3 stars
10/17/06 Ed Graham Poor film, not funny, a complete waste of time 1 stars
10/17/06 Noexit Funnier than the review, still sucked. 2 stars
10/16/06 mappyd Like eating glass, only more painful...... 1 stars
10/16/06 Stacy This comedy needed to be more comedic. 2 stars
10/13/06 michael had its moments but wait for the DVD 3 stars
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  13-Oct-2006 (PG-13)
  DVD: 20-Feb-2007



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