Time would seem ripe for a political comedy about a Jon Stewart-esque comedian being voted into the White House, no? Apparently, no.
Barry Levinson's "Man of the Year" squanders a promising premise; it's ultimately overlong, underwritten and strangely unfunny. Robin Williams plays Tom Dobbs, a comedian who hosts a "Daily Show"-like talk show, and who runs for president when a random suggestion from an audience member takes hold. Meanwhile, Eleanor Green (Laura Linney), an employee of a voter-software company, discovers a glitch in the software that may invalidate the election. Will anyone believe Eleanor? Will bachelor Tom get a date for the inaugural ball? And hmm, why is Tom's manager Jack Menken (Christopher Walken) ominously coughing?
The whole movie seems tired; much of the one-liners are jokes we've heard before, and the pace feels deadeningly slow. Williams occasionally launches into stand-up routines that have a snap, but Levinson keeps cutting to smiling reaction shots, deadening the moment. And as Eleanor becomes the prey of her unscrupulous employer (horrors!), the film becomes a bad chase movie involving car crashes and telephone booths, seeming to forget that it set out to be a comedy.
Not so very long ago, Levinson made the terrific political satire "Wag the Dog," but it's hard to believe this is the same filmmaker. The potentially lively Williams seems muzzled for most of the film; Linney and Walken's talents are wasted. The only character who resonates is Jeff Goldblum's debonairly evil corporate lawyer, who tells Eleanor in tones oily as tinned sardines, "The perception of legitimacy is more important than legitimacy itself."
There's a funny, smart movie somewhere deep within "Man of the Year." Unfortunately, it never gets out.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org