Friday, January 15, 2010

MAN OF THE YEAR (Universal/Morgan Creek 2006) Universal Home Entertainment

There needs to be a special place in heaven reserved for the utterly gifted Robin Williams; a man so generous with his art in making us laugh at the absurdities of being human, that to simply classify him as a comedian is to distill those formidable talents into crass pop-u-tainment.

Like Chaplin before him, Williams is a consummate raconteur: deceptively weighty in the tiny nuggets of wisdom he peppers throughout his stand up routines. His genius lies not in the myriad of rapid fire laughs, farcically - if generously - ladled, one upon the next, nor in his unrelenting sugar spun delivery - so full of wisp and polish that it confounds our senses as it tickles our funny bones.

No, Robin Williams' great gift to the world is his genuine affection for the audience. He so obviously and deliciously enjoys his craft and that infectious spirit of discovering himself as one of the people is a journey he willingly takes the rest of us along on.

His filmic career has constantly striven toward more lofty platitudes, even when the films themselves have been less than ample to sustain his grand insanity. So, perhaps it isn't surprising that we find Williams in peak form, with all of his creative juices pumping at full piston in Barry Levinson's Man of the Year (2006); a shockingly original poke at politics that stripes away the media circus to reveal a tragic little sideshow.

Williams plays Tom Dobbs - a political talk show host whose genuine concern for the future of the United States inadvertently thrusts him into the arena as a viable Presidential candidate. After declaring his candidacy, Dobbs learns that he has been taken seriously enough by both the Republican and Democratic parties to partake in the Presidential debate as an Independent.

With his former producer, Jack Menken (Christopher Walken) at his side, Dobbs departs from the scripted debate to accost incumbent, Sen. Mills (David Ferry) while moderator Faith Daniels helplessly looks on. The sheer firestorm derived from Dobbs incendiary remarks nets him primetime space on all the networks even though he never takes out personal air time to campaign for himself.

Meanwhile, in an arena of a different sort, computer programmer Eleanor Green (Laura Linney) is fast learning that truth serves no purpose in a world unrepentant to accept it. Working at Delecroy, a company whose new software is poised to revolutionize the way the American public casts their ballots, Green discovers a glitch in the system too late.

Warning her boss Hemmings (Rick Roberts) of the possibility that the voting system could elect the wrong man to the Oval Office, Eleanor is told to forget about that margin for error, then, is threatened by Hemmings legal mouthpiece, Stewart (Jeff Goldblum) and later, drugged in her apartment with a near lethal cocktail of barbiturates and other illegal narcotics.

After flipping out in the middle of Delecroy's cafeteria to a packed audience, the company quietly fires Eleanor in an attempt to put the matter of her exposing their ineptitude to rest. Unfortunately, for the executives, Eleanor's next line of defense is to contact Dobbs directly and reveal to him that a malfunction is responsible for electing him President of the United States.

The screenplay by Levinson continues on this dual trajectory - inserting touches of Williams' comedic genius whenever this rather heavy 'conspiracy' narrative threatens to submarine the film's otherwise high octane entertainment value. Gradually, however, the X-Files styled rogue elements of the story line win out and dominate the narrative, culminating with a failed rendezvous between Dobbs and Eleanor.

After Eleanor is nearly killed in an attempted hit and run, Dobbs realizes that he is, in fact, not 'the man of the people', though ironically - in confessing this to a packed audience during a live broadcast he suddenly becomes their 'man of the year.'

It's difficult not to appreciate the film for its highlights - as there are many: most deriving from Williams' wickedly satirical hatchet job on the status quo of American politics. However, like many of Williams' other movies - the material here and on the whole falls otherwise short of his zeitgeist efforts to sustain it.

Linney and Walken are superb supporting cast - each offering bold, broad strokes of gifted performing. But Jeff Goldblum is utterly wasted in this screenplay that inexplicably makes him the heavy midway through and thereafter jettisons his character entirely, except in flashback sound bytes.

In the final analysis, Man of the Year is worthwhile entertainment in general, but it somehow manages to fade to black unremarkably, with only a casual smile as its parting afterthought for the audience.

Universal Home Video's DVD presentation is unremarkable. While the image is frequently sharp and nicely realized with bold colors, fine details more often than not seem to be more softly focused. Occasionally, flesh tones are much too pink. More minute details completely disappear during darker scenes while daytime photography is best characterized by a color palette that appear slightly washed out in general.

The audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital and quite aggressive in spots. Bottom line: this is a film primarily driven by dialogue so there's really nothing to give your speakers a work out. Extras include two brief featurettes that superficially address William's brilliance and the making of the film.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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