The Post-Satirical Satire

Man of the Year sets up a nice premise—for another movie

Mike D'Angelo

You'd think that would be difficult, given the premise, which essentially is Stewart/Colbert '08. Robin Williams plays Tom Dobbs, the wildly popular host of a blatant Daily Show clone (though Williams aims more for Bill Maher-style sarcastic outrage than Stewartesque wry diffidence) who impulsively decides, against the advice of his worrywart manager (Christopher Walken), to run for president on an angry, all-politicians-suck platform. As it happens, the U.S. has just fully converted to a new electronic voting system designed by a company called Delacroy, whose Machiavellian honchos pay no mind to the insistence of functionary Eleanor Green (Laura Linney) that the program is still dangerously bug-infested. Sure enough, despite being on the ballot in only 13 states, Dobbs narrowly wins the election, at least according to the computer. And so the stage is set for a pointed, acerbic look at what might actually happen were the reins of the nation handed over to a professional gadfly. And, of course, should anything go awry, we know that Eleanor Green is around to reveal the truth.

Sound like a movie you might want to see? You'll have to make it yourself, unfortunately, because Levinson has no interest whatsoever in what makes a guy like Tom Dobbs tick. Nor does he have anything trenchant or even amusing to say about imagemaking in politics. Instead, he seems to have set himself a truly bizarre personal challenge: Given that the election of a TV personality as POTUS has become frighteningly plausible, what can I do to make it seem ludicrously implausible? Man of the Year, you will be astonished to learn, isn't fundamentally a comedy at all, despite the ads that make it look like a wacky Robin Williams vehicle. Early scenes are relatively antic, but after Dobbs wins the election, the film makes an abrupt and truly laughable swerve into Silkwood territory, with Eleanor Green as truth-telling martyr. Delacroy's execs, who apparently trained with the CIA before breaking into the software industry (the shadiest is played by Jeff Goldblum), first attempt to discredit Green by injecting her with various drugs, then escalate to kidnapping and attempted murder. All because it was somehow impossible for them to quickly correct a glitch that—I am not making this up—ranked the candidates in alphabetical order by double letters, with Dobbs' BB trumping Democratic incumbent Kellogg's GG and Republican challenger Mills' LL.

On the other hand, turning Man of the Year into Run Eleanor Run, though inexplicable and misguided, does have at least one salutary effect: less Robin Williams. His Oscar notwithstanding, Williams has only two modes as an actor, manic and comatose. In every role, he's either riffing at warp speed or employing every resource he can muster to inhibit that instinct, and neither approach makes for a remotely credible comic-as-president; when he starts free-associating during a televised debate ("Now they want to ban same-sex marriage. Anyone who's been married knows it's always the same sex!"), you're more apt to cringe than cheer, even though some of the jokes are laugh-out-loud funny. Americans may be sick to death of career politicians and their pseudosincerity, but that doesn't mean we're looking for a caffeinated prankster. That Jon Stewart's dry, befuddled pragmatism—his similarity to us—is what makes him seem like an appealing alternative is just one of the many things that Levinson doesn't understand.

  • Get More Stories from Thu, Oct 12, 2006
Top of Story