Man of the Year

Robin Williams, Man of the Year
Photo: Man of the Year: Ava Gerlitz

In Man of the Year, a late-night TV talk-show comic named Tom Dobbs (Robin Williams) runs for President of the United States and wins. This comes as a shock to Dobbs, his manager (Christopher Walken), and his head writer (Lewis Black), since the campaign was conceived as something between a publicity stunt and a theatrical protest against actual politicians who are too beholden to special-interest groups. It’s also a shock to Eleanor Green (Laura Linney), a software specialist at a giant computer company who figures out that Dobbs’ win is a result of her company’s own computer error, not the fair and balanced counting of votes.

Voting fraud and contested presidential elections? Been there, done that. Entertainers elected to government office? Ditto. It’s the comedian-as-truth-teller angle that’s fresh in this semi-satire from writer-director Barry Levinson (Wag the Dog) — the notion that Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, or Jay Leno might do just as well as any real-life clown currently in office. (The half of the film that’s not satiric is one-quarter clunky thriller about greedy corporate types out to prevent Eleanor from going public with the truth and one-quarter requisite attraction between bachelor candidate and fetchingly neurotic whistle-blower.)

Big spin-control problem: Robin Williams would never stand a chance, either as a presidential candidate or as a TV talk-show comic, a major drawback in a what-if scenario so self-congratulatory and smug. There’s not a moment in Man of the Year when Williams isn’t straining or hectoring, not one thinly amusing, standard-issue liberal riff he throws out that earns the overenthusiastic laughter the stuff produces in everyone around him, dragged out in indulgent reaction shots. (Walken and The Daily Show‘s professionally cranky Black look particularly pained when called upon to chortle.) Williams turns out to be exactly the wrong candidate for the job, a comedian singularly uninterested in letting anyone else get a word in, but with nothing to say.

Unfortunately chosen promotional clips and pics feature Williams done up in Thomas Jefferson drag. In context, the wig means nothing — just another gag that earns no votes.

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