|Man of the Year (2006)
Starring: Robin Williams, Laura Linney, Lewis Black, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Walken
Director: Barry Levinson
A funny thing happened while I was watching the comedy “Man of the Year”: a thriller broke out. Not some blunt-instrument melodrama, like what happened in Robin Williams and director Barry Levinson’s last collaboration, “Good Morning, Vietnam,” but a full-blown thriller. And even after they launched the thriller, they refused to give up on the comedy. Now, comedy and drama can work together, hence the silly industry buzzword dramedy. Comedy can even work well with horror, which is good since a lot of horror movies are funny whether or not they actually intend to be. But thrillers are about establishing tension, and tension is oil to comedy’s water. The end result is a movie at odds with itself; Levinson does himself in by trying to say too much.
Williams is Tom Dobbs, the host of a satirical news show, and while warming up the audience one night, an audience member suggests that, instead of skewering politicians, he should run for office and beat them at their own game. On a lark, he decides to do it, and to his great surprise, a whole lot of people like his no-nonsense message. After a grandstanding performance in the presidential debate, he becomes a sensation, and when all the votes are counted on Election Day, Dobbs is the new president.
Only, he didn’t really win. The Delacroy-made voting machines that everyone used (which I’m sure bears no relation to Ohio-based company Diebold) contained a glitch in the code, and Eleanor Green (Laura Linney), the Delacroy employee who discovers the glitch, is pressured into keeping her mouth shut. Indeed, her company goes to great, great lengths to discredit her before she can tell anyone. But she knows that Tom Dobbs will believe her, so she tracks him down in order to break the awful news.
That third paragraph threw you for a loop, didn’t it? You thought “Man of the Year” was an update on the light-hearted movie “Dave,” right? Wrong. Levinson is out for blood, and despite Dobbs’ claims that both parties are screwed up, his words only target one of those parties, and I’ll leave it to you to guess which one. The voting machine plot proves to be the movie’s undoing. It simply cannot be treated lightly, and as a result, it creates a wildly uneven tone that brings the movie to a screeching halt on multiple occasions.
Pity, too, because the funny parts are quite enjoyable, if predictable. (Apparently, those who have seen Williams’ last standup routine know many of these jokes already.) Williams wisely keeps his raging, inner improv freak in check, but maybe that’s because he’s flanked by Christopher Walken and Lewis Black, as his manager and head writer, respectively. Jeff Goldblum turns in a deliciously sleazy bit part as Alan Stewart, the eyeliner-wearing head counsel for Delacroy (seriously, it’s like he’s reprising his performance on the “SNL” skit “Goth Talk”). Linney, on the other hand, has the movie’s most thankless role, the wrongfully maligned do-gooder without a friend in the world. It also seemed as though the movie was about a step away from showing how the process had already corrupted the supposedly incorruptible Dobbs camp within weeks, but they stepped off the precipice at the last minute. Rats.
Watching “Man of the Year” is like taking a shower when one of your roommates flushes the toilet. Without warning, everything changes in a most unpleasant way. Levinson is admittedly streaky as a director, but hot damn, is he good when he’s got his A-game going. “Wag the Dog,” now that was A-game stuff. “Man of the Year,” however, is like the Zucker Brothers remaking “The Pelican Brief.”DVD Features:
The single-disc release of “Man of the Year” isn’t exactly brimming with special features. With the exception of two short featurettes –profiling director Barry Levinson and star Robin Williams – the DVD is incredibly barebones.