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Unfunny satire overwhelms new comedy

Brian Doxtader | Tuesday, October 24, 2006

“Man of the Year” is a film that starts out promisingly, but gradually loses steam and ends as an unsatisfying mishmash of aborted ideas and unfulfilled potential. Failing to take a real stab at the American political system and its farcical nature, “Man of the Year” instead gets lost over the course of its running time, pushing the real issues out of the way in favor of traditional Hollywood trappings.

Tom Dobbs (Robin Williams) is the host of a late-night comedy news program (not unlike “The Daily Show” or “The Colbert Report”) who, on a whim, decides to run for president. Helped by both his manager Jack Mencken (Christopher Walken) and his aide Eddie Langston (comedian Lewis Black), he sets off to run his campaign. The campaign scenes are the best and most effective in the film, as Dobbs continually mocks the circus-like nature of running for office.

Meanwhile, computer programmer Eleanor Green (Laura Linney) discovers a bug in the new voting computers, which means that Dobbs is guaranteed to win despite the actual election results.

Her employer, Alan Stewart (Jeff Goldblum), decides it would be better to drug or kill her than to lose the revenue from the new system, which can’t be recalled in time for the election.

Unfortunately, the second half of the film gets bogged down in this heavy-handed plotting. There’s a romance, there’s some action, there’s a conspiracy, the typical Hollywood stuff. This wouldn’t be so problematic if the characters had been developed more fully or if the plotting itself weren’t so laughable.

“Man of the Year” loses focus as it progresses, and while it never completely derails, its departure from its original premise detracts from any possibility of success. Despite its full 115-minute running time, “Man of the Year” feels underdeveloped – the filmmakers clearly didn’t trust its single premise to carry the film over two hours, and instead padded it with unnecessary plotting.

The acting is problematic. Strangely enough, the entirety of the cast is comprised of actors whose personality quirks define them – Williams, Gold-blum and Walken, among others. None of the actors seem to play actual characters (with the exception of Walken, who seems somewhat detached from his role), but rather seem to play themselves playing characters.

Black has proven time and again that he’s simply not an actor, and though he tries to stay under control here, his stand-up tendencies and sensibilities show through. Both he and Linney are mired in histrionics, which gives parts of the film a more frantic feel than necessary. In a strange twist of fate, Williams is really the only actor who holds himself in check, making Dobbs surprisingly subdued.

“Man of the Year” is the kind of film that would work better as a mockumentary. It’s an interesting concept, but the execution is so run-of-the-mill and its sensibilities so mixed that the picture ultimately falls flat. It feels as if director Barry Levinson doesn’t trust his audience, which leads to a rather uninteresting and, worst of all, unfunny picture.

The best comedies are pointed satires, which is part of what makes them so appealing – while “Man of the Year” claims to be a topical comedy, it’s neither topical enough nor comic enough. There’s not a single memorable joke, gag or line in the entire film. It’s not that “Man of the Year” goes for cheap laugh, but that it goes for no laughs at all, and in that in succeeds.