Genre: Dramatic Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 55 min.
Release Date: October 13th, 2006 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Barry Levinson Actors: Robin Williams, Christopher Walken, Laura Linney, Lewis Black, Jeff Goldblum, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Karen Hines
an of the Year” hopes to indulge or seduce audiences with an all-star cast, including Robin Williams, Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum, and Laura Linney, with direction by Academy Award-winner Barry Levinson (for 1988’s “Rain Man”). So how then could it also disappoint beyond imagination? Marketed as a feel-good comedy, this film is actually more of a genre-blending political thriller, generating a confused tone, a cartoonish plot, and mismatched, severe predicaments. It might have had potential if it knew what it wanted to be, but “Man of the Year” ends up as a mess of incongruous ideas that even Williams can’t redeem or effectively rib.
Tom Dobbs (Robin Williams) is a comedian who hosts his own TV show (much in the same vein as “The Daily Show” or Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update”), in which he hilariously slanders all things political. After routinely stirring up the discontent of the nation on air, he’s confronted by a fan who wonders why Dobbs doesn’t just run for President of the United States himself, to fix all of the problems he exposes and lampoons. So, without delay, he does. Sure enough, with his raw, frank, forward antics, and his analogy-laden manager (Christopher Walken as Jack Menken) and writing team (including Lewis Black as Eddie Langston), Dobbs not only ends up on the ballot, but also hysterically debates his way to victory. Until, that is, he learns a computer voting error may have unintentionally influenced the country’s decision.
Williams plays his usual lighthearted, nonchalant, and quick-witted character, which, if audiences aren’t tired of it by now, would normally gain instant approval. Walken, too, plays his standard persona, while, likely due to his acting limitations, Black embodies the cynical and sarcastic ranter that is … himself. Jeff Goldblum is one of the highlights, cast against type as the villainous Stewart, a henchman to the CEO of the faulty computer voting system used in the presidential race. And Laura Linney is Eleanor, the love interest and deliverer of bad news about the devastating error. Though the scripting doesn’t push the cast to any new places, the acting is entirely adequate.
Instead, it’s the mood, atmosphere, and narrative that fall apart. At times, the story becomes bizarre and disheartening, only to suddenly switch gears to again become a platform for spewing outrageous political farce. But the comedic scenes are greatly burdened by the tragedies that befall many of the characters (particularly Eleanor), spontaneously turning laughs into chills as the feel of a John Grisham legal thriller edges in. Essentially, after the first few introductory scenes, Williams’ sassy and facetious flair dissipates into the heavier drama that begins to take shape. And as soon as Linney’s role is introduced, she brings with her a disconnected side story that feels as though two separate movies are playing out in alternation. Though none of the actors really take their parts seriously – which corresponds perfectly with the comedy portion of the production – the more serious segments are irritatingly disrupted. Unconvincing romance and unlikely inaugural practices further add to the farfetched nuisances that pretend to be a plot.
Despite its frequent and routinely zinging political one-liners, the movie fails to frame its jokes around a sensible – or even amusing – story. With poor pacing and an overlong runtime, this endeavor would have been better suited as a stand-up special, with each of the stars stepping up onstage to do their routines, independently, before handing the microphone and the spotlight over to the next comedian. At least then this exercise would have felt harmoniously structured.
– Mike Massie