*** out of *****
Robin Williams is an actor who can deftly play both serious and comedic roles. His greatest performances, however, have always been those that allowed his humor and his acting chops to coexist.
One of Williams’ best performances was in “Good Morning, Vietnam,” a film that let him be a comedian and a character at the same time.
This link between “Good Morning, Vietnam” and Williams’ new comedy “Man of the Year” is apt because there are undeniable similarities between these two films.
Both are directed by Barry Levinson, a filmmaker who understands how to combine comedy and drama.
However, the real link between these two films is that they seek to blend Williams the comedian and Williams the actor. “Good Morning, Vietnam” succeeded in combining Williams’ faculty for comedy and drama, but “Man of the Year,” sadly, does not.
Williams stars in the film as Tom Dobbs, the host of a political comedy show who runs for president on a whim and is eventually elected.
Concurrent to the action concerning Dobbs is another storyline involving a woman named Eleanor Green (Laura Linney) who discovers that the electronic voting machines that have become standard throughout the country contain a serious glitch.
When Green tries to tell the company that produced the machines about the problem a company lackey named Stewart (Jeff Goldblum) gives her a great speech about how the appearance of legitimacy is more important than legitimacy itself.
At this point, “Man of the Year” essentially forks into two different films: A comedy about Dobbs as the president-elect, and a thriller involving Green’s attempts to expose the truth about the voting machines.
“Man of the Year” tries to accommodate both of these storylines, and as a result, the film feels uneven and indecisive.
The underdevelopment of Dobbs as a character also hurts the film. Adrian Cronauer, Williams’s character in “Good Morning, Vietnam,” was an authentic person who used humor to distance himself from the horrors of war.
Conversely, Dobbs simply feels like a mouthpiece for the film’s political comedy. As always, Williams is funny, but his character lacks depth and development.
There is a scene early on in “Man of the Year” where Christopher Walken, who plays Dobbs’s manager, urges the comedian to be funnier during his campaign speeches. Dobbs, though, wants to use the platform he’s been given to address the important issues.
This is symbolic of the central problem with “Man of the Year.” It is not content simply to be a freewheeling satirical comedy about contemporary politics; it wants to be important, and in order to be important it tries to address too many things.
If only the filmmakers had listened to Walken’s advice.
Staff writer Jeff Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.