Man of the Year: a movie review,

published at 8:10am on 10/14/06

On Thursday night I went to see a screening of Man of the Year, the new Robin Williams movie. Well, at least I’ve been calling it the new Robin Williams movie because all of the previews that I’ve seen for it depict a movie about what happens when a political comedian decides that he’s fed up with our political system and decided to run for office himself. Clearly, hijinks ensue (on scandal: “I did not sleep with that woman. I wanted to…” and on political appointments “Just off the top of my head, I was thinking of Bruce Springsteen, Secretary of State”).

Or at least, that’s what the preview is about.

The movie itself is about something a little different. The movie is, yes, about what happens when a political comedian (a la Jon Stewart or Bill Maher) decides to step out from behind the shield of commentary and actually decides to make a stand in the political system. But it is not about what happens when his message resonates so clearly with the country that they decide to take up arms, pitchfork and torch-style, and storm the system, casting their ballots overwhelmingly for change in order to elect someone who decides to shake things up from the inside. No, instead, it’s about what happens when the CEO (CEO? What? Stay with me here…) of an e-voting company (“Delecroy Systems”) is more concerned about his stock price than he is about the integrity of the country’s elections. It’s about what happens when an employee (Laura Linney) of that company discovers a flaw in the voting systems that will elect the wrong candidate and it is about what happens when that candidate happens to be the selfsame candidate who decides to enter the race on a whim in order to try to shake things up a bit.

This movie is a diluted version of any number of other movies that it could have been.

It is most certainly a diluted version of the knee-slapper that it could have been with Robin Williams (as Tom Dobbs, the aforementioned comedian/candidate) at the helm, backed up by Lewis Black (as Tom’s writer and probably the most underutilized actor in the entire movie). In fact, the only time Williams gets to be “himself” in that manner which we expect him to is when he loses his cool at the presidential debate between the incumbent Democrat (what?) and the challenging Republican. There we get to see what we all, at one point or another, have always wanted to see while watching those debates on television: someone who doesn’t care about format, who cares passionately about the issues, and isn’t sorry to break protocol to get his point across. And because it is Robin Williams, he’s quite funny while doing it.

But here’s the thing: it doesn’t actually work. In my fantasy version of what they are playing out in the movie, the outlying candidate would actually stick it to the others on the debate floor and ask them pointed questions, interrupting them to tell them to cut the bullshit, and actually push at them until they got so flustered that they actually had to say something of substance. Instead, the candidate Dobbs goes on a rant, taking the floor as if it were a standup routine, and not actually sticking it to anyone except the moderator who is trying to shut him up. To me, it’s more of what we always see in debates: candidates shilling for their own agendas without any actual substance.

Ok, so it’s not the feel good movie about what happens when the country gets to vote for a candidate they actually believe in who runs a campaign in order to actually impart some change on the system. So what is it?

Well, it’s also a diluted version of the conspiracy movie that it could have been.

With Jeff Goldblum as the voting company’s chief legal counsel, and some other guy as its CEO, the conspiracy subplot doesn’t really have the drama and intrigue that you’d want from something as sinister as a coverup that threatens the entire fabric of American society. Goldblum just isn’t sinister enough for the role in my mind. I also got really bored watching Laura Linney running around the entire movie when all I really wanted was to watch Robin Williams crack jokes. And I was really, really annoyed when she finally discovers the glitch in the system that is causing all these problems in the first place. I swear, if that was an actual programming error that came up somewhere I would have had the entire software development team beheaded for extreme stupidity.

I really wanted to like this movie. I wanted to like it as a comedy, I wanted to like it as social commentary, and I would have settled to like it as a thriller. But as a comedy the pacing was way off and as a thriller it just didn’t have the plot twists to make it compelling enough to care.

As far as social commentary, the only way I feel it could have been effective would have gone to one extreme or another: show a country so fired up about a broken political system that they would elect a clown to be its president, or show a country so apathetic about its broken political system that it wouldn’t care if a clown was elected as president. As it was, it tried to maintain some kind of middle ground which left us with a morality tale that was more After-School Special than anything else.

With the social climate such that it is in the United States, and with the cast that they were able to gather, I feel that the creators of this movie simply squandered whatever capital, be it relevance, talent or timing that they had in bringing this movie to market.

I mean for crying out loud, Christopher Walken doesn’t even get to dance in it.

Filed under: Observations

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