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Overall Rating

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look: 2.7%
Average: 24.32%
Pretty Bad: 16.22%
Total Crap56.76%

4 reviews, 13 user ratings

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Man of the Year (2006)
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by Erik Childress

"Fox News Is A More Credible Political Satire"
1 stars

2006 is turning out to be quite a year for political films. Smack dab in the middle of one of the more questionable Presidential terms of office our country has ever bore witness to, filmmakers are making their campaigns to be a part of the dissection. All the King’s Men retold a tale of how even the most fervent of idealists can be corrupted by the system. Hubris stirred the Toronto Film Festival with the screening of Death of a President, which fictionally created the assassination of our current Commander-in-Chief. Now there’s Barry Levinson’s Man of the Year which speculates the possibility of a comedian running for the oval office and winning. What these three films have in common, amazingly, is not a textured and biting view of what has become of our government but the simple truth that each arrived as the kind of colossal failure that could actually bring liberals and conservatives to common ground for once in their lives. Man of the Year, in particular, so haphazardly fails to recognize the ironies of its own failings that it unwittingly makes George W. Bush funnier…when he’s TRYING to be funny.

Levinson wastes no time setting up the premise as if he’s dying to get to the meat of his justified rage. Tom Dobbs (Robin Williams) belongs to the world of late-night topical comedy currently dominated by the likes of Jon Stewart and Bill Maher. During one of his warm-ups, an audience member puts forth the suggestion that he should run for President himself. Within days and before the end credits have completed, the internet has sprung a grass roots campaign and Dobbs soon announces his intention to get on the ballot as an Independent. This is all retold by Dobbs’ manager, Jack Menken (Christopher Walken) while talking to a reporter in a wheelchair. Our mind drifts when we quickly see that in his story, he’s on two feet. But only for a second as the campaign trail begins and the story looks as if its headed for some actual discussion beyond just a series of scenes where Williams does his usual stand-up routine.

Menken and his show producer, Eddie Langston (Lewis Black) watch with trepidation as Dobbs actually sounds like every other politician out there. They advise him to interject what his supporters want to see, his views filtered through comedy, which I believe is the same advice Steven Zaillian gave to Sean Penn in his portrayal of Willie Stark. Dobbs finally unleashes a barrage of hot-button finger-pointing on the televised debate like a madman that neither the candidates, the moderator or the TV director (played by none other than Barry Levinson himself in the first of many the aforementioned ironies) can get control of. Dobbs becomes a sensation, his poll numbers rise and on election night, the tide turns and he wins the election.

Watching these events unfold with great interest is Eleanor Green (Laura Linney), a big fan of Dobbs who “Tivos every one of his shows.” She also works for the corporation that has just been licensed to supply new touch-screen voting systems to every state. In the prologue she discovers a glitch of Ohio-esque proportions that miscounts the votes in favor of the incumbent. An e-mail to the CEO is ignored and she is told in great force by one of the firm’s handlers (Jeff Goldblum) that she is mistaken and her efforts are unnecessary and poorly timed. Goldblum’s line readings in this scene are so forceful that Levinson looks as if he’s just warming up for his take on the great injustices that corporations are inflicting upon America. Instead, Levinson turns this subplot into THE plot and the movie succumbs so completely to this infentesible conspiracy that we begin wondering, “wasn’t there something about a comedian who became President?”

There is no joke or trace of embellishment when I tell you that the final 70 minutes deal almost exclusively with this nonsense thriller plot beginning with a scene in Linney’s apartment straight out of a slasher pic. Where does Levinson think he is going with this angle and did he forget how he got there in the first place? The scene where her character is told off on election night is a confused bit right off the bat considering that the sitting President has the lead. She later admits to not being a voter, but forget politics for a moment and wonder where her loyalties lie. If she’s such a fan of Dobbs, wouldn’t she find a bit of amusement and possibility in him leading the country? If she’s a patriot instilled with an unwavering sense of right and wrong, then why doesn’t she vote? If both are true, why is she so willing to sell Dobbs down the river in favor of a company that is out to destroy her credibility (and even her health) in favor of the almighty dollar? This could be Levinson’s ironic view of a culture so undefined in their ideals that they don’t even recognize the consequences of actions they have no definitive loyalty to anyway. But he can’t cry irony when the satire has less tensel strength than a hanging chad.

Isn’t there any curiosity as the film’s writer to examine the consequences of the satirist becoming the satired? Even doomed to failure as a Stewart/Maher/Dennis Miller concoction that still sounds like Robin Williams circa the early 90s, even the slightest attempt by Levinson to follow through on his premise would have at least found some medium between Eddie Murphy’s The Distinguished Gentleman and Chris Rock’s Head of State. Instead it fails to match the political skewering of any nightly hour of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report or even the commercials which run in-between. Addressing Congress in a George Washington costume is the best he’s got? What year are we living in when a computer company can break into a special report on EVERY CHANNEL to tell America they’ve got an emotionally-disturbed employee? I’ve seen White House press conferences not picked up by major stations, but this film’s world considers a crashed phone booth as a major story (with reports of traffic hold-ups despite video to the contrary of this PARKING LOT incident) and Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update as the platform to make country-altering statements. (I suppose if you’re going to publicly admit wrongdoing, you’d want to do it with the smallest possible viewership.) This is a dumbing down of America that makes Mike Judge’s Idiocracy seem like a viable alternative and has us questioning if Levinson still indeed resides in this country, because at this point Lars Von Trier has a better grasp of American culture.

Man of the Year is a film that either cries out for writers like David Mamet (whose voice is all over Levinson’s brilliantly prescient Wag the Dog) and Aaron Sorkin (who injected reality into the Capraesque fantasy of The American President) or for a hack director who can just let Williams run amok and hope a few jokes stick. Alas, the best he has to offer are a pair of apolitical (but no less hilarious) throwaways about Richard Pryor and the staying power of Jag. Audiences going in expecting a through-and-through laugher may walk out wondering if they were duped into the appearance of a comedy by one of the many trailer mash-ups that can be found on YouTube or at Tom Dobbs is not a character for our times struggling to make the best of a situation he’s fed up with. If he were, he would have started with firing the author of this calamity instead of just following and believing every little thing he’s told.

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originally posted: 10/13/06 14:18:38
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User Comments

3/02/08 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
3/15/07 Jason Platt The reason that it was labeled a comedy is because comedies make more money than dramas 4 stars
3/06/07 ES Expecting a zany comedy and received a conspiracy thriller, feel a little violated 2 stars
2/26/07 the wizz not too happy w/ this movie, Not a great plot, total shit! 2 stars
11/15/06 William Goss A better drama than comedy, which hurts cast. Linney is better than it deserves. 2 stars
11/01/06 Pokejedservo Uneven, a good comedy but a rather so-so drama, but it was entertaining to me. 3 stars
10/18/06 Ed Graham Poor film, not funny, a complete waste of time 1 stars
10/18/06 Noexit Funnier than the review, still sucked. 2 stars
10/17/06 mappyd Like eating glass, only more painful...... 1 stars
10/16/06 Stacy This comedy needed to be more comedic. 2 stars
10/14/06 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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