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Political Crisis

Robin Williams and Barry Levinson need to stop working together on movies


Man of the Year has all the makings of a good-time political satire. The commercials make it look like a laugh riot, a film not unlike the imposter-becomes-president laugher Dave or even Warren Beatty's Bulworth (which I didn't like, but many did). As it turns out, Man of the Year is a dopey political thriller penned by writer-director Barry Levinson, a guy who seems long past his prime.

Robin Williams plays Tom Dobbs, a Jon Stewart-type talk-show host who likes to rail against the government during his pre-show standup routine. When a member of his audience suggests he should run for president, he decides to give it a go. He finds himself in the race, and we think we are in for some nice political satire, right in time for this fall's election and the next presidential campaign. Instead, we get a "Big Corporations are Bad!" cautionary tale about a crooked company that makes faulty voting machines. This is about as uninteresting a topic as I can imagine for a film like this, yet Levinson turns it into the movie's focus.

The film tries to take jabs at the media and debate forums. When Dobbs gets himself into a televised national debate, he goes all crazy on national television, desecrating the forum and making an ass out of himself. Of course, in Movieland, this is just the sort of thing that garners him political support and attention, rather than getting him ostracized by the public and media. Seriously: What Dobbs does during the debate would be classified as a bona fide meltdown.

When the elections go down (with MSNBC talk show host Chris Matthews trying to lend a little reality to the proceedings), Dobbs wins, thanks to a faulty computer program. Laura Linney plays an employee of the company responsible for the voting program that got Dobbs the job, and much of the movie focuses on the plot by evil corporate honchos to cover up her findings. Jeff Goldblum, scowling and talking fast, is utterly wasted as a guy who will stop at nothing to keep his company profitable.

In one scene, Linney, who has been injected with a nasty drug cocktail, tries to order a cappuccino in a cafeteria. It's hard to tell whether or not Levinson or Linney are playing this scene for laughs. Linney's overacting isn't funny, and it isn't disturbing, either. It's just hard to watch.

The Linney character eventually meets up with Dobbs (They fall in love! So cute!) and lets him know about the computer glitch. Then the film becomes a story about Dobbs' crisis of conscience, battling whether or not he should let the public know he didn't really win the election. It culminates with a clunky scene where Dobbs goes on Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update" to make a big announcement alongside Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.

Williams just isn't that funny anymore. He does good work in some of his more serious films, but listening to his standup routine lost its luster somewhere around 20 years ago. This is another one of those Robin Williams movies where the actor is spewing off a bunch of dialogue that is supposed to be funny, while onlookers in the film laugh their asses off to let us know it is, in fact, funny (reminiscent of the horrible Patch Adams, where all those kids cracked up at the scary doctor man). He says, perhaps, three or four funny things, with the rest of his dialogue being typical Williams in hyperactive mode.

A supporting cast that includes an unfunny Lewis Black and an even more wooden than usual Christopher Walken is wasted. This is the third time Williams and Levinson have teamed up for a film, after the successful Good Morning Vietnam and the execrable Toys. Both are not doing really well with the comedies nowadays (Envy, RV, etc.), so perhaps a more dramatic effort would be wise if they should ever cross paths again. Or, better yet, they should just stay away from each other entirely.

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