Man Of The Century
Clocking in at a lean 80 minutes, Woody Allen's ingenious Zelig takes a clever gimmick—the pseudo-history of a human chameleon in the '20s discovered in old photographs and newsreels—and stretches it as far as it will go on scattered gags and technical wizardry. Shorter and considerably less inspired, the too-similar Man Of The Century, an indie comedy about an obliviously chipper Depression-era newspaperman in contemporary Manhattan, has little more to sustain it than goodwill and a catalog of anachronistic street slang. Shot in appropriately drab black-and-white, the film opens with a silent sequence, complete with vintage title cards (copyright "International Convention Of Buenos Aires"), introducing "Johnny Twennies," an indefatigable columnist for the struggling New York Sun-Telegram. Played with enormous charisma by co-writer Gibson Frazier, the character is given to tossing around buzzwords like "bub" and "moxie" and doesn't perceive a cultural history past Irving Berlin, Theodore Dreiser, and Sinclair Lewis. His relationship with Soho art-gallery proprietor Susan Egan—of which his mother doesn't approve because her name "doesn't appear in the social register"—is strained as he resists her romantic advances and his paper verges on going under. In need of a big scoop to save his career, he pursues an elusive mob kingpin, rebuffing square-jawed heavies with unflappable gusto. Man Of The Century would make a good short feature, but Frazier and director Adam Abraham's thinly conceived story lacks enough invention to prop it up, particularly in its generic vision of modern life. Frazier's encounters with '90s urban creatures and attitudes all strike an ironic note that's repeated in only minor variations. By the time all the characters come together for a show-stopping, Night At The Opera-inspired finale, the premise has lost its charm.