Review: A Vot of Apathy for Robin Williams Political Satire


We've seen plenty of "Jon Stewart for president" bumper stickers, and it would be fun to see a straight-talking, scathingly satiric guy like him on the campaign trail against the usual suspects.

Barry Levinson's "Man of the Year" aims for that scenario, though, funny as he is at times, Robin Williams in the commentator-turned-candidate role is a lightweight, almost as empty a suit as the career politicians he's up against.

With a premise too absurd for belief even alongside 2000's photo-finish presidential election, "Man of the Year" becomes a campaign of character, relying mainly on its cast to see it through.

Luckily for writer-director Levinson, Williams and especially co-stars Laura Linney, Christopher Walken and Lewis Black deliver well enough to keep the movie in the race, making viewers care about these people more than the story merits.

Mr. Williams Goes to Washington

The actor and filmmaker behind "Good Morning, Vietnam" team up again for the story of Tom Dobbs, a political commentator who seems less about substance and more about the manic standup jabber on which Williams built his early career.

Williams' Tom is the comic host of a political talk show that supposedly tells it like a sick-and-tired electorate wants to hear it. We're led to understand that Tom's an insightful wit whose assaults on Washington's power brokers have made him so beloved his TV audience wildly cheers at his innocent comment about running for president himself.

The trouble with Levinson's screenplay is that Tom talks a lot but doesn't say much. We essentially see Williams doing his schtick, prattling in such a bluster that the mildly amusing material sounds funnier than it is, with some generic politically rabble-rousing tidbits thrown in to establish him as a voice of dissent, a title the character doesn't deserve.

Even so, Tom shakes up the establishment by jumping in as an independent alternative to the bland Republican incumbent and the blander Democratic challenger. Though Tom polls like a respectable third-party candidate, it's all meant as a lark and a reminder to the real politicos that their job is to serve the American people.

Then the impossible happens. Under a new computerized voting system, Tom wins the election. As his sickly manager (Walken), head writer (Black) and other minions prepare for the transition to ultimate power, an employee of the company that developed the voting system, Eleanor Green (Linney), turns up claiming a software glitch mistakenly handed the election to Tom.

It's left to Tom to reveal the possible mistake or keep his mouth shut and take the job.

Walken, Linney and Black Prop Up Script

With the exit-polling that private parties do in every election, Levinson's plot just crumbles. His far-better political satire "Wag the Dog," with its outrageously manufactured TV war to distract the electorate, was credible stuff by comparison.

It's outlandish that a guy on the ballot in just 13 states -- and polling a distant third in those -- would be declared the winner without an uproar. Yet the media, the political parties and the public simply shrug and accept the fact that Tom won.

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