Dir/scr: Barry Levinson. US. 2006. 114mins
With Man Of The Year, Barry Levinson returns to the Americanpolitical scene that he satirised so ably in Wag The Dog, this time forgoing unregenerate cynicism for satireslathered between layers of disarming sweetness and optimism.
But despite boasting RobinWilliam's most restrained and winning performance for some time, this story ofa TV entertainer who unexpectedly gets elected president, is likely to makeonly limited impact at home when it opens this weekend. Overseas, whereaudiences will be far less familiar with US politics, it faces an uphillbattle. Ancillary markets should experience a slight bump but only if thepicture does well domestically.
Tom Dobbs (Williams) is apopular late night TV talkshow host (think The Daily Show's Jon Stewart) whosespecialty is skewering politicians. With the presidential election just monthsaway he throws his hat into the ring as a joke - and quickly attracts agrassroots following.
Although the exit pollsdon't predict it (shades of the 2004 US election), Dobbs wakes up to findhimself the president-elect. He isn't the only one shocked by the news;software analyst Eleanor Green (Linney, fine asusual), who works for the company that made the computerised voting machines,realises there has been a glitch in the system. Dobbs has not won the election.
Green's cutthroat boss (Roberts)and his even more ruthless lawyer (Goldblum) refuseto admit the mistake and put out a hit on her when she tries to engineer ameeting with Dobbs. She eventually succeeds, leaving it up to Dobbs to decideif he will go public with the truth or keep his mouth shut and stay in office.
Levinson earns praise for thefilm's unforced dialogue and crackling political humour (no telling how much ofit Williams improvised), but the plot meanders more than is necessary and makessome especially ill-advised detours. At one stage - and against the advice ofhis manager (Walken) and speechwriter (Black) - Dobbsopts to take the "serious" route and ends up boring potential supporters. Then,with no explanation, he suddenly reverts to his comic persona.
Man Of The Year delivers several worthwhile points but the plottakes off in too many different directions, making it feel scattered and morethan a bit exhausting. Dobbs' run for office turns out to be just the teaser; ratherthe main plot is the election fraud, which is milked not only for its comicpotential but also its romantic and thriller possibilities (there's way toomuch cloak-and-dagger activity surrounding Eleanor).
Williams keeps hisover-the-top tendencies in check until he is called upon to let loose during atelevised presidential debate. Overall, he gives a relaxed, convincingperformance as a funny guy who also turns out to be a decent man. Supportingcast is equally proficient, including Lewis Black, who sometimes irritate.
Technical credits are allprofessional, with a special nod to Dick Pope's photography. The film is shotdocumentary style and looks and feels like the real thing.
James G Robinson