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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.

Writer-Director Barry 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