October 19, 2006

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Man of the Year(PG-13)
Robin Williams from 1998 calls himself in 2006 and asks for his jokes back after which Jon Stewart calls and asks for his movie premise and his Lewis Black back in Man of the Year, a movie which really shouldn't have disappointed me this much.

I mean, really, I knew better. Or at least I should have. A movie where Robin Williams has to submerge his striped shirt and suspenders and put on another persona has a shot. A movie where Robin Williams is required to be a capering comedian is doomed before it begins. We don't get evidence of Williams' humor here so much as we get shots of people laughing at him, shots that demand us to believe that he's funny, even if the words we hear him saying would suggest otherwise.

Oh, perhaps Tom Dobbs (Williams), the talk show host who is clearly being set up as his universe's Jon Stewart, would have been funny back in the mid-1990s, when his shtick might have felt a little fresh. As it is, he's an unfunnier version of Williams' own act on the talk show and a positive snooze when, in the film's opening moments, he decides to run for president and hits the campaign trail to talk about issues. Desperate to be taken seriously, Dobbs sticks to being serious a factor that upsets his manager Jack (Christopher Walken) and his writer Eddie (Lewis Black). Why does a candidate known for and embraced because of his satire and his wit play the straight man? Before the movie considers giving us a good answer, it jerks us and Dobbs back into the land of the easy punchline (Same- sex marriage? When you're married, it's always the same sex) at a debate. After that Dobbs is feisty and sharply funny and we know this by seeing, guess what?, more reaction shots of laughter. Even Jack and Eddie belt out the forced guffaws just to let us know how funny Tom is.

Through this election season, however, one person isn't laughing (that much) Eleanor Green (Laura Linney), a killjoy name if ever there was one. Eleanor is a techie at Delacroy, the company that makes the computers that will serve as the vote tabulators in the upcoming election. She's figured out that the tabulation software has a flaw which leads to the candidate who received about two thirds fewer votes winning by a large margin. She e-mails the company's president about it but he erases the memo hoping that the problem will fix itself or at least not be noticed. It doesn't and it is and Dobbs is elected president with Eleanor knowing his win is an error. She confronts the Delacroy president and is herself confronted by his creepy lawyer Alan (Jeff Goldblum). He quickly decides she's a problem and he sets out to discredit her.

Tom meanwhile is having fun planning his administration even though he doesn't quite believe he's president either. Eleanor travels to Washington to talk to him and, freakishly, she's able to meet him. They strike up a friendship that has undertones of possible romance and overtones of crazy because even before Tom hears Eleanor's full story he knows there's something a little off about her.

About five minutes into the movie I seriously considered asking the projectionist if one of the reels was missing. Had we perhaps started a third into the movie? No, but even though the timeline of the movie unfolded in a way that suggested everything was in the correct order, I still felt like I was missing something. Man of the Year feels like it was edited with garden shears and stuck randomly back together. What does this scene have to do with the one before it? Why are we jumping from the computer company cafeteria to the White House? Is Dobbs a cynic or an idealist? Does he think he's president? Does he want to be president? Was his run a publicity stunt? The movie answers none of these questions. It seems to start to but then drops them and walks away, leaving you with half-told jokes, nearly-one-dimensional characters and plot arcs to nowhere.

The writing is confused too, as though MadTV writers had cribbed The Daily Show and waved the script by Aaron Sorkin to catch a bit of his puffery. What does this movie want to mean? It's a riddle wrapped in an axis of evil tangled in a thousand points of light, illuminating nothing. D

Amy Diaz