by Josh Boris
Why are we in such a rut again? After emerging from the whiz-bang of summer blockbusters I want to be thought-provokingly entertained again, but that just ain’t going to happen.
With the exception of “The Departed,” the movie offerings in the last several weeks look more like the post-Oscars season drivel we have to sit through when the studios dump all the movies they know are shit. If things don’t change soon I’m going to angrily threaten to send strongly-worded letters of my disapproval to the movie studios and then promptly forget to do it.
“Man of the Year,” written and directed by Barry Levinson, is yet another ho-hum movie in a long line of yawners. When political comedian (think Jon Stewart, but not funny) Tom Dobbs (Robin Williams) decides to run for president on a whim, he’s surprised at the amount of support he receives. When election day rolls around, everyone is amazed to find that Dobbs not only has a strong showing, but actually wins the presidency, despite being on only half the ballots. However, there’s obviously a catch. It seems that computer programmer Eleanor Green (Laura Linney), who helped design the electronic voting booths for computer company Delacroy, has found a glitch in the voting system. Dobbs is not actually the president elect. When confronted with this news, Dobbs has an identity crisis and must decide whether he can ethically continue to be the president elect. Of course, while all of this is happening the goons hired by evil Delacroy lawyer Alan Stewart (Jeff Goldblum) are trying to silence Green so as to not jeopardize future commercial contracts.
Look at that plot. There’s a little bit of everything there, and much of it is firmly grounded in current events. With so many people sporting “Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert ‘08” t-shirts, what would happen if a political comedian actually ran for office? With so many fears of ballot fraud and concerns over paper trails, what if the new electronic voting system does lead to the wrong candidate being elected? And, of course, who isn’t concerned with evil corporations controlling American politics? With a film so contemporary and cutting edge, how could it possibly go wrong? Here’s how: Don’t make it funny or scary, just middle of the road, and take out all of its teeth so it’s not at all biting.
It’s sad, because Levinson has had some cutting political commentary in his earlier films. “Wag the Dog” and “Good Morning Vietnam” both attacked the political system and are oft-cited successful films. Unfortunately, it appears that Levinson has been toned down, and is unsure even of the type of film he’s making.
“Man of the Year” violently shifts between straight comedy, biting, dark, political satire, romantic comedy and political thriller, and sometimes tries to mix the genres together. Even when he is solidly exploring one of the genres, Levinson often falls short. For a political comedian, Dobbs is more like Leno than Stewart and his humor is rarely politically topical but more often focused on misogynistic or racist humor (and not even funny offensive humor to boot). No one is nearly as outrageous as they should be, and it looks like they took what could have been a brilliant satire on the American political system and made it a poor PG-13 movie.
As usual, what it comes down to is the promise and delivery. While “Man of the Year” offers a good premise and seems like it might offer a good political commentary, it takes little risks and decides to wrap everything up in a nice little bow rather than provide an actual satirical jab at the American political system. I said it was beating a dead horse last week, but I really think that people should just ignore other movies out and just see “The Departed.”