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Man of the Year

dir: Barry Levinson
[img_assist|nid=799|title=There's only two things this man has ever done that impressed me: One Hour Photo and Christy Canyon|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=407]
Man of the Year is a missed opportunity, more than anything else. It starts off with promise, but squanders its potential by idiotically getting fixated upon an element that should never have been more than a minor subplot. As such, it is a waste of time for all involved. Including and especially the viewer.

The premise is that Tom Dobbs (Robin Williams), a comedian tv show host who’s like a populist cross between Jay Leno and Jon Stewart of The Daily Show fame runs for President of the United States. Except, unlike Jay Leno, he can get through a monologue without stumbling repeatedly, and unlike Jon Stewart, he’s not that funny.

He runs on a populist platform of rejecting the bipartisan political theatre of the Republican – Democratic divide, and by appealing to the electorate with some straight talk and truthiness about the compromised nature of Congress due to the influence of lobbyists and corporations. He does this instead of repeating the endless mantras and tired tropes of family values and fearmongering.

Much to everyone’s surprise, especially his own, he actually wins the election. But an employee of the IT company that supplied the computerised voting machines and the software to collate the results (Laura Linney) believes that the system is faulty and that the result is suspect. And though she admires Dobbs, she feels that it is her responsibility to bring it to the attention of the President-Elect.

So, initially the story starts off being about the rise-to-power of someone outside of the Machiavellian system of boy’s clubs, gladhanding, graft and babykissing that is American politics. In this respect the flick starts off interesting, though we have to hear an endless parade of the standard Williams prattle that passes for ‘improvisational’ humour these days. Dobbs and his retainers, played by a wheezy and wheelchair bound Christopher Walken and perpetually angry Lewis Black (amongst others) are awed by where they’ve ended up, and though they try to manage every stage of the process, there is this sense that amazing doings are transpiring.

But then the flick, stupidly in my opinion, gets bogged down in the story of the voting machine company employee and her attempts to reveal that the election result is incorrect. At first you think it’s going to be part of the plot, and then as it gets progressively more preposterous, you realise it’s the entire plot.

Eleanor is a programmer at the Delacroy company, and tries to brings the program’s faults to the CEO’s attention. He and his henchman (Jeff Goldblum) dissuade her from mentioning it ever again, and then try to convince her that the result doesn’t matter. Democracy is sufficiently taken care of if people think their votes count, rather than whether their votes actually count or not.

When the evil Delacroy executives, clearly modelled on the actual company supplying voting machines to the election process, Diebold, realise that Eleanor won’t shut up about this pesky lapse in electoral validity, they endeavour to make her life hell. They do this initially by breaking into her house and injecting her with a cocktail of drugs: everything from heroin and cocaine to ecstasy and acid. Instead of just dying or blissing out, the intention is to discredit her by calling her a crazy drug addict.

It just goes on and on in increasingly more inane ways. They’re not inane because they’re implausible: as aware as I am of the lengths corporations sometimes go to in order to safeguard their profits, stock market value and reputations by destroying their detractors, I find it hard to believe that a company making voting machines has a black ops unit prepared for counterintel, clandestine druggings and wetwork. They’re inane because they completely jar with the tone and purpose of rest of the film.

There is an irony arising out of all of this, since the same director is responsible for the scathing satire that was Wag the Dog. The problem is that Man of the Year is built upon the premise that a straight-talking man who can connect with the electorate through humour and honesty can still rise to the top of the heap in today’s America. All that crap about the voting machines and the evil corporation behind them, of course, are meant to recall the electoral irregularities and controversies of the 2000 election, which completely undermines the story.

Because once that becomes the focus of the plot, it asserts that the straight-talking etc guy not only doesn’t have a chance in a fair election, but that he never, in his own words, belonged in the race in the first place. And that the right course of action a moral person would have taken in a contested and disputed election would have been presumably to bow out with good grace. Just like presumably the eventual ‘winner’ of the 2000 election should have.

Muddled and mixed messages much?

This flick is a major disappointment, especially considering the legacy of Wag the Dog. Wag the Dog was an admission that the entire system of presidential politics was a sham, and that unappointed influencers and fixers had far more power within the corrupt and irredeemable system than any of the politicians people vote for, all of whom profit from the ease with which the gullible populace can be distracted with constructed and media-managed narratives about wars and celebrity scandals.

Man of the Year asserts the idea that everything’s fine, the system works beautifully most of the time as long as the legitimate candidates of the major parties are kept in check by the efforts of comedians and the occasional whistleblower.

In the immortal words of Bill Hicks, “Go back to bed America, your government is in control. Here, watch American Gladiators.”

Had it stuck with the political fortunes of the independent underdog rising to the highest seat of power in the land, it might have said something, anything that was relevant about American politics or politics in general and been interesting. As it stands, because it gets bogged down in the Eleanor Green story instead, as if she were the main character and the point of the story, it squanders whatever point it was trying to make and shoots its load in the most inappropriate places.

Pointlessly timid.

4 reasons listening to Robin Williams run through his limited repertoire of stock standard characters is even less of a justification for watching this film out of 10

“HMOs will pay for your Viagra, but they won't pay for your glasses. So you can have a hard-on, but you can't see where to put it.” – Man of the Year.