© 2006 Ray Wong
Almost twenty years after their collaboration in Good Morning, Vietnam, Academy Award winners Barry Levinson and Robin Williams team up again for another politically-charged drama-comedy. This time, however, the result is less than biting.
Tom Dobbs (Williams) is a popular comedian/talk-show host who often offers astute observations and barbs on current affairs and politics. On a lark, Dobbs accepts a challenge and runs for President of the United States. His manager Jack Menken (Walken) and chief writer Eddie (Black) become his campaign managers. Dobbs never expects to win -- in fact, he's just happy to capture 16% of the poll numbers without running a single advertising campaign.
Lo and behold, the underdog beats out his opponent, incumbent President Kellogg (Dave Nichols) and Senator Mills (David Ferry), to win every state where he's on the ballot, and eventually wins the election. That's a surprise to everyone, including Eleanor Green (Linney), the mastermind behind the voting machines developed by Delacroy. The problem is, Eleanor suspects that there's a technical glitch in the Delacroy system, which created faulty election results and made Dobbs the new president. Threatened by her boss Hemmings (Roberts) and Stewart (Goldblum) to cover up the potentially financial disaster, she flees and seeks out Dobbs, believing that he's the only person who would believe her and do the right thing.
Williams (RV) tries to recapture the sparks he had in a comedic-dramatic role as he did in Good Morning, Vietnam. Unfortunately, the result is a character that lack that shine we expect. Sure, he's funny when he's on, but for most of the film, Williams seems slightly out of his element. Dobbs comes off as meek or uncertain, and he is not always funny. He lacks certain oomph to pull it off. Jon Stewart would have been great.
Walken (Click) pretty much plays himself in a role that is tailor-made for him. He has a few good scenes and some good lines, but mostly underused. Linney (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) gets to run around throughout the film babbling and acting agitated. Granted, that's what her role calls for, but her character is also very frustrating to watch: Eleanor makes an effort to prove herself but at the same time retreats from doing the right thing or protecting herself from danger. The supporting cast does their job in their relatively minor roles, including Black (Accepted) as Dobb's writer Eddie, and Goldblum (Fray Grim) as slimy Delacroy executive Stewart who would do anything to stop Eleanor from exposing the truth.
Writer-director Levinson (Envy) has created a story with an identity crisis, much like its central character, Dobbs. A quick glance would almost convince us that this is a political satire much like this year's Thank You for Smoking or Levinson's own Wag the Dog (1997). Unfortunately, the jokes mostly fall flat and the humor disappears after the first act. Then the film turns into a political thriller, but a dull one at that. The situations and the motivations become murky and incredulous. The political commentaries and jokes sound recycled as well. Some of the situations are contrived and predictable. The ending is a fantasy.
Levinson does know how to keep a brisk pace. The story opens with a quick exposition (narrated by Walken) that gets the back story out promptly and creates a sense of suspense. The editing is efficient and the cinematography adequate. The satire works rather well in the beginning and then just fizzles out. It also becomes preachy in the middle -- we can all speculate on Levinson's own political leanings and we won't be too far off. And that's all right had Levinson wrapped his political ideologies in an enthralling tale with a more engaging protagonist. Too bad. Man of the Year is far from being the movie of the year; it's only a dull satire-thriller without a sustainable core.
Stars: Robin Williams, Christopher Walken, Laura Linney, Lewis Black, Jeff Goldblum, Rick Roberts
Director: Barry Levinson
Writer: Barry Levinson
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language, brief violence, some crude sexual references, drug-related material
Running Time: 115 minutes
Script – 6
Performance – 6
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 7
Production – 7
Total – 6.6 out of 10