News

Robin Williams stars in 'Man of the Year'

Mario Tarradell [The Dallas Morning News]

Robin Williams stars as comedian-turned-candidate Tom Dobbs in the movie "Man of the Year."

Politicians are a joke. And the electoral process isn't all that trustworthy, either. Those are the messages director and screenwriter Barry Levinson sends during "Man of the Year," the sometimes piquant comedy-drama starring Robin Williams.

The film's plot alone is a slap upside the head -- or at least a hard nudge -- to every typical career politician who spends countless hours perfecting his or her public image, speech-giving tactics and substance-free sound bite rhetoric. Williams plays Tom Dobbs, a late-night TV comedian and pundit who on a lark suggestion from an audience member throws in his name as an independent presidential candidate.

He generates enough notoriety and raises enough eyebrows to get on the ballot in several key states, making him a solid competitor to the Republican and Democratic nominees. Do you hear the echoes of Kinky Friedman?

Anyway, Dobbs takes to the campaign trail accompanied by manager Jack Menken (Christopher Walken) and head writer Eddie Langston (Lewis Black). A televised debate becomes his calling card. Dobbs commandeers the platform, not letting his opponents get a word in edgewise, and rants and raves in a series of hilarious yet fact-based one-liners about war, national security, health care and several other hot-seat issues.

The Dobbs campaign trail literally splashes before the cameras. Levinson films the public appearances as rock concerts characterized by flashy lights, screaming fans and loud, large-and-in-charge performances. Politics is equal to showmanship, which in the end is nothing more than momentary entertainment.

Dobbs is the most unconventional candidate. For one, he's completely honest. He fesses up to past drug use, a failed marriage and his single status. And while he's short on political experience, he strikes a chord with many tired of the same old.

Eleanor Green (Laura Linney) inadvertently crashes into Dobbs' life. While at work, she discovers a computer glitch in the electronic voting software the nation's about to use. That glitch could, and eventually does, alter the results of the election. After she warns her superiors, particularly the company's lethal lawyer Alan Stewart (Jeff Goldblum), she's fired, persecuted, drugged and even run-over in attempts to stifle her information.

This is when "Man of the Year" morphs from manic comedy to moody political thriller. For many, the switchover might be too abrupt. Especially since Williams tones down the voracious stand-up prowess and turns serious, a concerned man searching for truth that may render him a footnote.

It's all well handled. In fact, the only clunky aspect of the movie comes with a forced romance between Dobbs and Eleanor. Thank Williams for that mostly seamless flow. The Oscar-winner commands dramatic acting powers almost as strong as his funny-man muscles. And Levinson, who also satirized politics in 1997's acclaimed "Wag the Dog," directs with confident ease.

Plus, his point blazes through. At a time when politicians are most in question, Levinson feels no qualms about depicting the process as a hilarious and yet dangerous farce.

___

MAN OF THE YEAR

Grade: B-plus

Starring Robin Williams, Christopher Walken, Lewis Black, Laura Linney and Jeff Goldblum. PG-13 (language, violence, sexual references, drugs). 115 minutes. In wide release.

___

© 2006, The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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