Man of the Year (2006) / Comedy-Drama

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for language, sexual references, drug related material, and some violence
Running Time: 115 min.

Cast: Robin Williams, Laura Linney, Christopher Walken, Lewis Black, Jeff Goldblum, David Alpay, Chris Matthews, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, James Carville (cameo), Cathleen Crier (cameo)
Director: Barry Levinson
Screenplay: Barry Levinson
Review published October 22, 2006

Man of the Year isn't so much about what might happen if a comedian were the president so much as if the wrong candidate won -- the wrong candidate being the independent thinker who actually won't lie to get votes (i.e. an also-ran, usually).  With the major push towards electronic voting, some critics of the newfangled technology question whether or not the system could really be foolproof, once you get past the glitches, potential hacking, and, in the worst case scenario, a major coup involving the businesses involved in the production and maintenance of such devices.  This film is built upon those fears, and certainly writer-director Barry Levinson (Bandits, Liberty Heights) is quite passionate about the subject, but he just doesn't really know how to say it effectively.  It's interesting enough to hold the attention, although the unfocused plotting and implausible scenarios stretch the credibility in ways that don't lend well to intelligent commentary.

Robin Williams (RV, The Night Listener) stars as a comedian and television host named Tom Dobbs, whose brand of political humor has struck such a nerve with the public that a grassroots movement forms in order to get the jokester to run for the highest public office.  Dobbs has no expectation to win, but he does use the platform to try to effect the minds of the American citizens, and after a strong performance during a national debate, Dobbs goes from distraction to contender almost overnight. 

Meanwhile, there is a new voting system being implemented, created by a multibillion dollar corporation whose success is riding high on it proceeding without a hitch.  One of the employees within the company, Eleanor Green (Linney, The Exorcism of Emily Rose), discovers a glitch in the way the machines tabulate votes, and the integrity of the entire election could be compromised.  The corporate bigwigs try to disregard her pleas as nonsense, but she won't keep mum, and as the election improbably sees Dobbs as the overall winner, she is intent on getting the one man with the nobility to see that justice is served in the matter, Tom Dobbs himself.

For about the first 45 minutes of this comedy/drama/thriller/romance, Levinson and Williams hit the right notes at the right times in order to make this an amiable thinking-man's satire on the state of our current political system, as well as our disgruntled opinions of politicians and how they kowtow to corporate interests who fund their campaigns.  While in this mode, Man of the Year, while somewhat unoriginal, does manage to keep the laughs and sharp satirical bent coming sufficiently to see that it could finally be a Robin Williams comedy worth paying for. 

Unfortunately, once the campaign for President is over, so is the film's run of thematic efficiency.  Whatever momentum Levinson had built up immediately stops once the glitchy voting machine controversy takes over, turning this comedy into a morose thriller that completely paves over the funny material that is left in the film, suffocating the life out of it until every play for laughs in the final hour feels like an act of desperation to keep it still within the realm of comedy. 

This is one case where you can't blame Robin Williams for his choice of material, as he does perform admirably in his role, enough to think it one of his better comedic performances.  Sadly, Levinson can't keep the right footing for the tone, and consequently, the comedic timing is all off for the second half, as is the burgeoning romance that lies underneath the surface between Dobbs and Green, who never really seem to make an adequate connection to think there is anything more than mutual attraction there.  Linney and Walken (Click, Wedding Crashers) acquit themselves with good performances, although their respective parts aren't completely playing to their respective strengths as actors.

While I do happen to agree with much of the politics Levinson espouses regarding the current political climate, as well as share in some of his fears regarding technology and corporate interests, I do think that the way Levinson presents his arguments doesn't quite work as an effective film overall.  Instead, the food for thought we are given tastes curiously overcooked, coupled with odd presentation and a blend of different styles that don't really go well together. 

While Man of the Year has its moments, there just aren't enough of them to merit a recommendation to pay money or give up your time for.  It's frustrating only because Levinson has the vision, intelligence, and quality cast to make his ideas fly, only to have his story flail about miserably trying to find the proper tone in order to cram in every one of the competing elements that vie for screen time.  Remove the romance, the deadly thriller elements, the dumb subplots like Walken's smoking habit, and even the big plot itself of the voting machine controversy, and what's left could be a good movie if done in the right Carpa-esque tradition.  Unfortunately, Man of the Year is in the recent Levinson tradition of thinking too much about the importance of his message, to the point where he loses all sight of his fundamental role as a storyteller.  His Man of the Year ends up playing as confusing as a film as a butterfly ballot is to the voting process.

 Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo