October 16, 2006

Man of the Year

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Man of the Year is hopeless, meandering bunk. It is painful to watch the screws and bolts of this rambling mecha-clown come undone, with the head rolling off the screen and down the aisle of the theater. Perhaps a more able technician than writer/director Barry Levinson could have simultaneously worked the levers of comedy and liberal sermons. But he relentlessly drives it towards a bog of absurdity, and not even the deus ex machina he summons at the end is able to save it from its plunge.

Robin Williams stars as Lou, I mean, Tom Dobbs — a late-night comedian with a penchant for political satire, a la Jon Stewart. After a member of his audience suggests he run for president, he does just that, bringing his screwball, “independent” philosophy to the campaign trail. Jack Menken (Christopher Walken), his manager, and the rest of his television crew act as his consultants and advisers throughout the campaign season.
Needless to say, his outsider, fed-up-with-corruption-and-party-politics shtick clicks with the American people, and the film moves along at breakneck pace to shuffle Dobbs into the White House. Tom Dobbs the comedian soon becomes Tom Dobbs, president-elect.

Then the film commits celluloid suicide. A ridiculous subplot involving an electronic voting machine manufacturer, Delacroy, arises to throw the movie out of its orbit. Delacroy employee Eleanor Green (Laura Linney) discovers a flaw in the machine programming, meaning Dobbs was illegally handed the presidency.

Eleanor, the bearer of this urgent secret…emails the company CEO and kindly asks him to investigate the problem. Gulp. What’s a CEO to do in this situation? Ah, yes, hire some lackeys to break into Ms. Green’s home, inject her with barbiturates and narcotics, claim she’s crazy, and then fire her.

So after Eleanor is released from the hospital, she decides to communicate the truth directly to Dobbs. Posing as an FBI agent, she manages to meet with Dobbs at a birthday party for his manager (so that’s how you get past the Secret Service!). But even though she gains his trust, dances with him at the party, and spends an afternoon playing paintball with him, she just can’t seem to find the time to tell him! Alan Stewart (Jeff Goldblum), a corporate hack working for Delacroy, discovers their relationship and decides that Ms. Green needs to be…neutralized. What started out as a political satire mutates into an Insider-type corporate corruption thriller.

Although the film assumes a neutral political tone, just a few of the things it directly criticizes are: the issue of a constitutional amendment to ban flag-burning as a distraction from real issues; lobbyists; golf vacations; if-you’re-not-with-us-you’re-against-us mentality; blocking gay marriage. Hmm, that sounds very familiar…oh I know! The Democrats, of course! The film’s criticizing Democrats!

The decision to cast Robin Williams and Laura Linney in the two leads was almost as bad as Hitler’s decision to invade Russia. Is Robin Williams actually funny? Does anyone actually like his manic comedy bits? And Laura Linney! Sweet mother of pearl, why Laura Linney? Her two extremes are a radio host from the SNL “Delicious Dish” skit and Roseanne’s neurotic sister Jacky. Somebody please throw her back into the Plain Jane bag.

From Walken’s inexplicable bookend narration, to Chris Matthew’s appearance as himself (including the brilliant line: “Dobbs has won a blue state and a red state, which indicates his appeal cuts across party line”), to the absence of a running mate for Dobbs, to Dobbs’s ridiculously trite campaign slogan, “Coalition for Advancement,” to Goldblum’s corporate menace, the film just takes one wrong step after another.

It seems worlds have collided to bring us Man of the Year. Crappy worlds, like Planet Hollywood and Telemundo. Believe you me, after the cheap, idealistic sentimentality of Man of the Year, you’ll be willing to pay any slimy, corrupt politician to have his associates drag it into an alleyway and put a bullet in its head.