U.S. Release Date: October 13, 2006
Distributor: Universal
Director: Barry Levinson
Producer: James G. Robinson
Composer: Graeme Revell
Cast: Robin Williams, Laura Linney, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Walken
Running Time: 1 hour and 55 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (language including some crude sexual references, drug related material, and brief violence)

Political Comedy-Thriller is Half-Baked
by Scott Holleran

The humorless, ill-conceived Man of the Year is another atrocious vehicle for manic comedian Robin Williams, a sporadically bright actor who worked with this picture's writer and director, Barry Levinson, on Good Morning, Vietnam and Toys. It is not a happy reunion.

Williams plays a television comedian who assumes the presidency in error following a computer malfunction. That pretty much describes this movie, which strives to do too much and accomplishes too little. Laura Linney stars as the person who discovers the glitch, Christopher Walken portrays Williams' shady manager and, against his Apple Computer persona, Jeff Goldblum plays an evil Silicon Valley businessman.

With a left-wing playbook as script, Levinson knocks predictable targets, especially Big Business, and he puts forth punch lines promoting environmentalism. This is intended to sell Williams' Bill Maher-type showman as a populist with an unabashedly anti-Capitalist bent, with Williams sounding like John McCain or Ralph Nader, griping about "special interests" as though anyone advocating self-interest is self-evidently horrible. After zero debate preparation, Williams takes on the two party candidates, ignores the format's rules and filibusters in a Ross Perot-style rant.

Meanwhile, Linney's even-keeled computer genius watches from her sofa with a boyfriend who looks like he's still in high school, soon to realize that the fix is in and Williams may wind up being elected president by mistake—while the bad hi-tech businessmen conspire to let it happen because they aim to make money—never mind that having Williams as president is unlikely to be profitable—which, in Levinson's view, is wrong.

But if Big Business is horrible—and this movie has Silicon Valley hit men assaulting Linney—then Universal's Man of the Year is horribly guilty, shamelessly plugging its own products with countless spots featuring NBC Universal's MSNBC host Chris Matthews—whose Hardball is the best political show on the air—and positioning NBC's comatose series Saturday Night Live as the climax.

Hypocrisy aside, movie genres pop up faster than bad jokes, which tastelessly swipe at Karen Carpenter, patriotism and lesbians. Political satire, thriller, drama, comedy—Levinson runs amok, vacating the familiar Williams shtick for a while and leaving Linney as the main character, a woman on the verge of something close to schizophrenia by the time she reaches the White House to unmask the vast computer conspiracy. In one scene, battered and bruised Linney lays in a hospital bed while her teenaged boyfriend is laughing aloud at Robin Williams' jokes on TV.

Man of the Year suffers from such incompatibility for what seems like an entire congressional campaign season. More like smudgy modern art than a movie, it wraps with the notion that everyone's corrupt and the best one can do is laugh, party and let it all hang out.

Occasionally, a joke breaks through, in this case, a memorable line about a particular CBS drama, which gets the biggest laugh. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with the movie.

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