'Man of the Year' Disappoints
By John Hartl, Film critic, MSNBC
Unfortunately, in spite of a few witty and politically savvy moments, the picture pulls its punches and remains mostly a concept. Instead of building on the idea of Williams running the country and delivering the giddiest press conferences on record, Levinson turns the movie into a rather tepid thriller that's built around an ethical dilemma.
Eleanor Green (Laura Linney), who works for a voting-machine company, has found a glitch in the computer that proves that Williams' character, Tom Dobbs, couldn't have won the election. When she informs her employers (including a shadowy, spooky Jeff Goldblum), they immediately dive into cover-up mode. They also drug her and make her look like a raving fool.
Nevertheless, she's determined to contact Dobbs. Although she doesn't vote, she thinks all politicians are corrupt and she even entertains the idea that a comedian might do a better job than the non-entity he seems destined to replace, it's the principle of the thing. It's just too bad the principle makes for lousy political satire.
In place of zingers, Levinson throws in cheap thrills that would be more at home in a Friday the 13th special. Eleanor is attacked by a prowler in her home, she's threatened by her bosses, her car is followed on the freeway and a mini-van sends her to the hospital when it crushes the phone booth she's occupying.
Only when Williams is allowed to be Williams, in all his ad-libbing glory, does the picture begin to take off. His barbs may be mild compared to Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart, but his running commentary on polarization, red and blue states and "slam dunk" evidence is still hard to resist.
As his sidekicks, Christopher Walken and Lewis Black also have their moments. The Walken character's seen-it-all comments are always welcome. Black may be more expressively angry on Stewart's "The Daily Show," but it's still a treat to hear him react to a smarmy politician's posturing on television.
"This guy smiles so much he's beginning to upset me," he says in that about-to-explode manner Lewis has perfected. There are also a few satisfying digs at cell-phone limitations, hapless holiday television specials (Robert De Niro makes a deliberately deadly cameo appearance) and the folly of giving "equal time" on talk shows to Holocaust deniers.
Levinson, who made the much smarter "Wag the Dog" nearly a decade ago, artificially prolongs Eleanor's dilemma, interrupting her whenever she's about to spill the beans to Dobbs. Overlong at two hours, the movie would be much shorter if she'd just blurt out what she knows the first time she meets him.
Levinson also relies far too much on reaction shots that tell us how hilarious Dobbs is supposed to be. It's like a visual version of a laugh track — unnecessary if the joke is funny, and embarrassing when it isn't.