My Year Of Flops: Case File # 12: Man Of The Year
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The reaction shot suffers an undignified death in the misbegotten Robin Williams vehicle Man Of The Year. Edit out all the fawning shots of Lewis Black (as Williams' worshipful writer) and Christopher Walken (as Williams' even more worshipful manager) chortling euphorically as they pretend to find Robin Williams' stale shtick gut-bustingly hilarious and the film would easily be 10 minutes shorter. Then there are the countless scenes where Black and Walken exchange dialogue like:
Lewis Black: Holy smokes, I never thought [Robin Williams' character] could top the devastating satirical brilliance of his Viagra routine but now he's in such a zone comedy-wise he's like Michael Jordan slam-dunking from the three-point line with Jimmy Page standing on his shoulders playing a wicked guitar solo as fireworks explode in the distance to herald Christ's return.
Christopher Walken: Oh my God. My brain is going to explode with joy over the sheer humorosity of his being. I am literally going to die of laughter and then return as a ghost so I can laugh some more.
Writer-director Barry Levinson's latest flop is fundamentally dishonest. It promises to be one kind of terrible movie, then delivers a substantially different breed of cinematic atrocity. Man Of The Year promises to be a movie about President Robin Williams shaking up Washington with his tired brand of manic "improvisation." There are certainly elements of that in the finished film but Man Of The Year is also the kind of movie where noble, clean-living whistleblower Laura Linney freaks out in a coffee shop because the evil geniuses behind computerized election shenanigans have secretly dosed her with heavy drugs to discredit her campaign to bring their nefarious deeds to public attention. Seriously. As Dave Barry would say I am so not making any of this motherfucking freaky-ass shit up.
Man Of The Year suffers from a debilitating condition I call "Subplotitis" where a hacky plot thread that should be relegated to a minor subplot or excised altogether ends up consuming an entire movie. Consequently Man Of The Year rapidly loses interest in the apparently very limited comic possibilities presented by a Robin Williams Presidency so it can focus on a ludicrous and insulting subplot involving computer vote fraud.
Man Of The Year ostensible premise–what if a Jon Stewart surrogate ran for President?–boasts considerable potential. Alas, that potential dissipates completely once it becomes apparent that the film's Stewart surrogate is nothing but late-period Robin Williams in hacky, shticky overdrive.
Levinson obviously noticed that television jesters play an increasingly important role in our political process. But casting Robin Williams as an incisive satirist whose incendiary truth-telling threatens to turn politics on its head in 2006 is like a contemporary filmmaker observing that there's a lot of provocative, influential rappers out there, then casting Young MC as a wordsmith who's elected our first black president based solely on the scathing satirical genius of his lyrics.
Actually that's a patently unfair comparison. If you're reading this, Young MC, I would like to state uncategorically that in no way do I feel you're as outdated, tacky and uninspired as Robin Williams. I apologize for suggesting otherwise.
Man Of The Year aspires to timeless satire yet refuses to do anything that might offend anyone anywhere. So Williams is depicted as a cutting-edge genius whose ideas terrify the powers that be yet he never takes an actual stand on any issues. Actually that's not entirely fair either. Over the course of the film Williams' zany muckraker takes each of the following wildly provocative positions:
*He's in favor of throwing the bums out
*He's against politics as usual
*He's anti-fat-cats, lobbyists, stuffed-shirts, blow-dried phonies and corrupt corporations
*He's in favor of change, democracy and the little guy
Just how did Williams become a legitimate candidate? The Internet! For filmmakers of a certain age the Internet is nothing less than computerized magic, a handy deus ex machina that can explain away any plot hole or inconsistency. How did a golden retriever get named pope? The Internet! How could a basic-cable joke-slinger get taken seriously as a Presidential contender? The Internet!
Once Williams is elected via a massive computer glitch the film's focus shifts to plucky Laura Linney's efforts to uncover her former employer's election fraud in a plot thread that plays like a lobotomized version of classic paranoid '70s conspiracy thrillers like The Parallax View. Levinson's got the visual look of conspiracy thrillers down, with lots of cameras and monitors on display to emphasize the inherently artificial nature of campaigning but his take on politics is as tone-deaf as his take on comedy.
Man Of The Year bottoms out when Williams visits Tina Fey and Amy Poehler on "Weekend Update" to discuss the controversy embroiling his administration. Only in Levinson's fevered imagination do Robin Williams' hackneyed shtick and mid-decade Saturday Night Live qualify as epicenters of cutting-edge satire.
Levinson's latest offers two terrible movies in one. It's a bloated, self-congratulatory, utterly toothless comedy and a pathetic conspiracy thriller. Maybe that's why it already feels so woefully dated. Man Of The Year shoots for cultural zeitgeist but tells us nothing about our world except how clueless and out-of-touch its makers are.
Failure, Fiasco or Secret Success: Fiasco