Man of the Year (8/10)
by Tony Medley
Warning! Donít pay any
attention to the promotion for this film. I had seen both the display ad
that pictures Robin Williams dressed like George Washington and a
trailer before I received the invite to the screening and was less than
enthusiastic. I canít remember seeing a Robin Williams film I enjoyed
and this one looked worse than most.
Fortunately, the film is
nothing like the bad promotion. Instead of a stupid comedy, which is
what it looks like in the promotion, itís a humorous thriller. It is
funny, but it conveys its message adeptly, although some might claim
that if youíve seen Williamsí 2002 standup routine youíve heard the
jokes before. Fortunately (or, maybe not so fortunately for Robin), the
vast majority havenít seen his routine and the jokes will be fresh. On
top of the comedy, itís a thriller as well.
Levinson has Tom Dobbs (Williams) run for President and win in an
election in which the votes are counted by a computer created by
Delacroy Voting Systems. Eleanor Green (Laura Linney, who shows her
range with a wonderful performance), a key person in the company,
discovers that the system has a flaw. Her boss, Hemmings (Rick Roberts)
doesnít want to hear about it and instructs his strong arm guy,
corporate counsel Alan Stewart (Jeff Goldblum, who is hatefully
convincing as an unethical lawyer) to thwart her, which sends her flying
to Washington to confront Dobbs with the truth. She succeeds in meeting
him using a silly ploy that is the weakest part of the movie. Itís
incredible that Levinson can devise a good ingenious story, but still
insert something as unbelievable as this. Fortunately, itís a plot
device that detracts from the film but isnít important enough to destroy
it. Dobbs becomes enamored of her and all the while sheís being pursued
by the bad guys from Delacroy and subject to all sorts of dirty tricks.
Williams has been cursed with
the same disease that has stricken other standups who have tried to make
movies, most notably Steve Martin. They just arenít funny in movies and
their movies stink. Williamsí highly regarded ďMrs. DoubtfireĒ (1993) is
on my list of all-time despicable films.
But here Robin comes into his
own. Heís allowed to be as funny as he is on stage because thatís where
heís placed in this movie, onstage. Adding to his humor, heís a good
actor (Juilliard-trained, which most people donít know or appreciate)
when given the right material and a good director.
His supporting cast is
equally competent. The always-dependable Christopher Walken plays Dobbsí
manager, Jack Mencken. Lewis Black sparkles playing Dobbsí acerbic head
writer, Eddie Langston.
Although itís relatively
apolitical, it still tilts left and puts in some subtle promotions for
leftwing causes. One of Dobbsí crowd pleasing lines attacks the
political corruption of corporate donations to candidates without
mentioning the corruption of the donations of labor unions to influence
political campaigns. The talking heads hired to appear in the film are
all leftwing, headed by the screamer Chris Matthews. Still, the movieís
message is mostly that all politicians are morally bereft, regardless of
ideological slant, and who can argue with that?
Given my prior opinion of
Williamsí movies, this was a pleasant surprise to me. I donít think I
looked at my watch once.
October 11, 2006