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Man of the Year - DVD Review


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</script></div>{/googleAds}Man of the Year is advertised as a comedy. The trailers tell us it's a political satire that exploits the convergence of U.S. politics and popular entertainment of the past decade. It asks the question and poses a reality scenario of what if a comedian, in the vein of a Bill Maher, John Stewart of Stephen Colbert, were to run for and actually be elected to the presidency. So why then, does the story turn into a political thriller about halfway through? The answer lies with what Writer/director Barry Levinson calls parallel interests brought about by several emerging phenomenon in the new millennium the proliferation of electronic voting machines and the idea that certain celebrities are becoming disturbingly more and more involved in the political process.

While it's a huge stretch to attempt to meld these two ideas together into one movie, especially with humor as its backbone, darned if Levinson doesn't pull it off with mildly biting humor that's laugh-out-loud funny but not quite as scathing as Wag the Dog, and political intrigue that doesn't necessarily rival that of All the President's Men, but is thrilling nonetheless. What should have been a total disaster, actually winds up as an uproariously funny and often entertaining film worthy of your movie-going dollars.

Robin Williams is Tom Dobbs, a curiously familiar conglomeration of the aforementioned late night comedy talk show hosts. Following a flippant remark during the audience warm-up session of his television program, Dobbs decides to announce his candidacy for president. After eventually finding himself on the ballot in a handful of key states, the Dobbs for President campaign gets into full swing. Along the way he capitalizes debates, makes a mockery of the two-party political system, and pokes fun at such hot-button pop-issues as gay marriage, flag burning and even takes on the antics of some past presidents.

Williams is surprisingly subdued. I've grown a bit tired of his over-the-top buffoonery, and indecipherable ramblings, but here he displays a welcomed calm that makes his character as believable as a comedian-turned-president can be. He also displays some vulnerable moments, flashing the sympathetic side we've seen in many of his more serious roles.

Running concurrent to Williams' political hijinks, and providing the unexpected "thriller" part of the story, is a thread involving a meticulous computer analyst, Eleanor Green (Laura Linney), who discovers that a glitch in her company's software that runs the electronic voting booths, erroneously awarded the victory to Dobbs. Ripping yet another page from today's headlines, the executives of her company attempt to hush Eleanor's concerns as she takes it upon herself to notify Dobbs of his ill-gained victory. The ensuing cat-and-mouse game is an intriguing ride, while also providing a much-needed respite from the bombardment of Williams' one-liners. We find ourselves becoming drawn in by this side of the story, but sadly, it never really gets up and going. Perhaps a more masterful director could have pulled it off better, but more realistically, the film needed to be either an out-and-out comedy or a political thriller, but not both.

Levinson encountered some troubles telling his story. He's really selling two different ideas here and is never completely successful in fusing the two together. But he does manage to keep the proceedings engaging, as the two opposites often complement one another quite nicely. As expected, the story's pop-culture relevance and the comedic timing of Robin Williams prop up the comedy side, and an exciting thread featuring Linney's fine performance (highlighted by a drug-induced paranoid fit thrown in her company's cafeteria) buoys the thriller side. Turns by Christopher Walken as Dobbs' campaign manager, and Jeff Goldblum as the devious attorney hired by the beleaguered software firm, round out a cast that hums like a well-oiled machine.

After watching Man of the Year, I was able to entertain myself with thoughts of what might happen if an actual celebrity were elected president. Would Oprah hire Dr. Phil as Secretary of State, and would Mick Jagger make a good Press Secretary? Don't laugh. Truth is stranger than fiction.


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