‘Man of the Year’ pokes fun at American politics | TahoeDailyTribune.com

‘Man of the Year’ pokes fun at American politics

Howie Nave
Ava Gerlitz / Universal Pictures / TV talk show host Tom Dobbs (Robin Williams) decides that he will run for President in "Man of the Year."

When life sometimes imitates art (and vice versa) it makes for interesting parallels when making a movie. So the idea of a comedian as president of the United States seemed interesting. We’re quick on our feet, can handle hecklers from the opposition during a debate and leave the campaign trail with them wanting more.

Take, for example, political comic Jon Stewart from Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.” He has one of the largest viewing audiences on the boob tube and consistently beats out the legitimate network newscasts the same time that he airs (11 p.m. daily). It’s even been reported that more people get their news from “The Daily Show” than from conventional media outlets such as cable and network news.

But seriously, Jon Stewart for president? People have been wearing “Stewart/Colbert ’08” T-shirts lately. Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart each have their own fake news programs on Comedy Central, and have no intention of making a run for the White House, so you can breathe easier now. Stewart scoffed at the notion that some people actually get their news solely from “The Daily Show.”

“There’s no way you could get the news from us,” he said. “I’ve seen the show. It couldn’t happen.” Or could it?

But, hmmmm, maybe a comedian wouldn’t make for such a bad president after all? Some have even argued that anything is better than what we currently have in the White House. With that premise in mind, here we have Robin Williams as a popular TV pundit/comic, Tom Dobbs, who gets the opportunity to run for office in Barry Levinson’s political farce, “Man of the Year.”

Levinson first directed Williams in his breakthrough role as that of unorthodox and irreverent DJ, Adrian Cronauer, in “Good Morning, Vietnam” (1987). Ten years later, Levinson’s “Wag the Dog” became one of the best satirical political films ever, predicting what it would take to keep the nation’s mind occupied from the illicit affair of a president by creating a phony war. Wouldn’t you know it that Bill Clinton followed the same script as that movie two years later? Life imitating art and vice versa. Scary.

Levinson gives Williams leeway in what he does best: improvising. Much of the dialogue in “Good Morning, Vietnam” was improvised and came across as fresh and unrehearsed, which is what improvising is. In “Man of the Year” Levinson again lets Robin add lines to the written page making his character more unique and funny, as it should be. C’mom, man, he’s a comedian.

You know who shouldn’t have improvised his script? Barry Levinson. The movie starts out interesting enough, with the idea of a comic as president with his Cabinet staffed with fellow comics and entertainers. There are plenty of gags tossed about, which work early on in the picture. But then the movie decides that it needs to become more of a political thriller, complete with conspiracy theories, a big business conglomerate and the altering of the electronic voting process. Sounds intriguing enough, but Levinson plays it too cautious, not taking the conservative or liberal side so as to not rock the boat, when in fact he should be doing just that in this an election year.

The movie boasts a decent supporting cast, which pretty much are pawns for Williams to knock down. Christopher Walken is turning into the American equivalent of Michael Caine, popping up in movies left and right. Here he plays chain-smoking manager Jack Menken. Walken does a good job of playing Walken here.

Political comic Lewis Black plays Eddie Langston, Dobbs’ head writer. The interplay between both comics is one of the highlights of the film, and you can’t help but think they genuinely had a good time playing off one another.

Laura Linney plays software analyst Eleanor Green, who is the whistleblower who discovers there’s a glitch in the electronic voting machines that operate nationwide that could affect the outcome of the presidential election weeks away (sort of like our current countdown toward next month’s elections). I won’t get into schematics here about states taking charge of their own electoral process but, hey, it’s Hollywood, remember?

Jeff Goldblum plays another villain in the form of Alan Stewart. A lawyer? Bad guy? I enjoyed the sprinkling of cameo appearances throughout the movie, which added credibility and flavor to many of the scenes.

At any rate, the notion of a comic in charge of things can’t be any worse than some of the jokers currently in Congress. I wish I was joking, but some of those scoundrels on the Hill should take a reality pill and come down from their ivory tower and see what’s going on in the real world. “Man of the Year” may not be a great picture, but for a brief moment we get a glimpse of what might happen if a funnyman were in charge. I mean, hell, we have “The Terminator” running for Governor, and last count, his numbers looked pretty solid for a re-election bid. Life imitating art is surreal, and at times you have to ask yourself which story seems more fictitious.

– Howie Nave is host/manager of The Improv comedy club inside Harveys and reviews films for seven radio stations throughout northern California and Nevada, including the Sirius Radio Network every Sunday evening. He hosts “Howie’s Morning Rush” on Tahoe’s KRLT radio and you can see his film reviews every Friday morning on KOLO ABC TV Channel 8.

Keepin’ it Reel

Now playing: “Man of the Year”

Starring: Robin Williams, Christopher Walken, Laura Linney, Lewis Black, Jeff Goldblum, David Alpay, Faith Daniels, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Doug Murray, Chris Matthews, James Carville, Rick Roberts, Karen Hines and Linda Kash

Directed by: Barry Levinson

Rated: PG-13 for language including some crude sexual references, drug-related material and brief violence

Length: 115 minutes

Howie gives it: 3.5 out of 5 bagels

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