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"MAN OF THE YEAR"
(2006) (Robin Williams, Laura Linney) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Dramedy: A TV political comedian runs for the presidency and becomes involved with a software technician who believes the subsequent election results are incorrect.
PLOT:
It's the year of the next presidential election pitting incumbent President Kellogg (DAVE NICHOLS) against challenger Senator Mills (DAVID FERRY), all of which means political comedian Tom Dobbs (ROBIN WILLIAMS) and his cable TV show are more popular than ever. When an audience member yells out that Dobbs should run for office, a grass roots movement starts, eventually leading to the comedian entering the race and making his way onto the ballots of thirteen states. While he initially takes the role seriously, since he wants to discuss the issues, his longtime manger Jack Menken (CHRISTOPHER WALKEN) and head writer Eddie Langston (LEWIS BLACK) eventually convince him that his comedy will help him stand out from the others. Accordingly, he makes mincemeat of his competitors in a televised debate, increasing the odds that he might actually win.

All of which has software programmer Eleanor Green (LAURA LINNEY) nervous. She's found a flaw in the Delacroy electronic voting system that will affect the outcome of the vote tabulation, but the company's CEO, James Hemmings (RICK ROBERTS), and head lawyer, Alan Stewart (JEFF GOLDBLUM), want her to keep quiet, especially after Dobbs ends up winning.

With only her boyfriend and coworker Danny (DAVID ALPAY) also aware of the faulty election results, Eleanor is overcome with guilt, eventually leading her to get close to Dobbs, but she finds herself unable to rain on his and his staff's parade. As those two become attracted to each other romantically, Hemmings and especially Stewart set out to make sure she won't be able to ruin their company's future by blowing the whistle about the faulty software.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
In most any election, those who receive few votes are ever commented on, even if they're sometimes the most "interesting" candidates. I'm referring to those who don't even know they're running, and instead are written in by voters discouraged by the other choices and/or those simply thinking they're funny.

Speaking of the latter, it's not unusual for comedians to get some of that "vote," not only due to them being funnier than the other candidates, but also because they often cut to the chase in terms of skewering the other candidates and politics in general. Many have been unofficially tapped throughout the years, the latest being Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show."

Such a comedic dark horse and political neophyte is the main character in "Man of the Year," a film being advertised as a political comedy, but in reality is more of a drama that starts off funny and then turns into something of a thriller wannabe.

Of course, when people hear that the film reunites star Robin Williams with director Barry Levinson (who previously collaborated on the hugely successful "Good Morning Vietnam") they'll automatically think comedy as well. Nevertheless, many viewers may be surprised and/or disappointed by the long stretches where nary a laugh is to be found.

Working from his own screenplay, Levinson tells the tale of Stewart type character (Williams seeming tired when not otherwise suddenly energized by periodic comedic rants) who, on a whim, decides to run for the presidency when a grass roots movement from his cable TV show pushes him to do so. He takes it seriously and wants to talk about the real issues, but his handlers (Christopher Walken and a toned down Lewis Black among others) know he needs to inject his humor into his message to make it palatable to the disenchanted masses.

That leads to the film's most amusing segment, a televised presidential debate where Williams' "tell it like it is" character lets loose on his opponents (Dave Nichols as the standing President and David Ferry as another "politics as usual" candidate). In doing so, he gains a growing admiration from those who appreciate his candidness.

While nothing particularly hilarious, Williams and Levinson get in all sorts of barbs at politics and politicians (most notably conservative elements), but one assumes much of it is the comedian famously improvising the comedy riffs. In fact, the film is obviously structured to give him various appointed moments for doing just that (talking to the press, appearing on "Saturday Night Live's" Weekend Update segment, etc.).

Yet, Levinson makes a calculated but unfortunate misstep when he decides to forgo politics per se and instead tackle the voting process or, to be more exact, the electronic collection and tabulation of such results. Presumably something of a spoof of the famous "hanging chad" debacle of the 2000 presidential election, the filmmaker focuses a great deal of time and attention on this matter. Yet, rather than do so for laughs, he decides to try to use such material to turn the film into a political thriller.

You see, Laura Linney (seemingly trying to imitate Helen Hunt by scrunching up her face around her pretty nose to demonstrate concern) plays a software technician for the Delacroy corporation that's designed the touchpad voting system. She's found a glitch, but her CEO (Rick Roberts) and the company lawyer (Jeff Goldblum playing nasty) want to squash the news since it obviously won't be good for the company's stock price.

Accordingly, they have her injected with a concoction of drugs (to have her officially designated as a drug user) and later try to abduct and kill her, and nothing says comedy like any of that. The problem -- among many the film faces -- is that the suspense element not only is a jarring and unexpected transition from the humor, but it also fuels what turns out to be a rather lame thriller.

With Linney's character wanting to tell Williams' about the glitch but uncertain whether she wants to rain on his parade like a vigorous monsoon, that results in them spending lots of time together. And since his character is a bachelor, that obviously leads to a little romance, although that's just as unsuccessful and blasť as the thriller material (especially regarding a scene featuring them playing paintball -- why do filmmakers continue to think this activity is funny?).

The biggest issue is that while everyone else thinks Eleanor is a shaky soul of uncertain demons, Dobbs believes her and her story despite never drilling her for exact proof of her claims (which doesn't inspire much confidence in his upcoming presidential decision-making abilities, although it proves he's either psychic or has read the screenplay).

That, the fact that she still has access to the potentially damaging information after being fired, along with other such credibility straining moments don't do the film any favors (although having "Wheel of Fortune" serve as the catalyst for her discovery of why the program malfunctioned can be noted as also paying homage to Levinson's previous use of the game show in "Rain Man").

Lacking the edgy satire of "Bulworth" (or even Levinson's own "Wag the Dog"), the charm and smarts of "Dave," and clearly paling in comparison to any number of political thrillers, the film just doesn't work that well on any level, especially when it takes a sudden and unexpected detour in mid-campaign. Likely to loose popularity once viewers hear what it's all about, "Man of the Year" rates as a 3.5 out of 10.




Reviewed October 10, 2006 / Posted October 13, 2006


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