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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Man of the Year

**** Man of the Year. Comedy/Drama

Directed by: Barry Levinson
Starring: Robin Williams, Christopher Walken, Laura Linney

We saw this at the Hercules with the kids.

Tom Dobbs (Robin Williams) is a political comedian. Think Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert. Christopher Walken plays his manager. One night on his show, someone asks him why he doesn't run for President, and the ball starts rolling. At first, it's just a lark, a publicity stunt, but it becomes more real when he debates the regular candidates. And even more real when he wins.

Or is it? Laura Linney plays a woman who works for the company who devised the computer voting system, and she's discovered a glitch. She tells the head of the company (Jeff Goldblum), and receives the equivalent of a "don't worry your pretty little head about it." She thinks the problem's been fixed, but when she sees the election results, she knows it hasn't been.

And then the story becomes serious, as the company tries to shut her up using whatever means is necessary, and all those in power are more concerned with perceptions than reality. As long as Tom Dobbs looks like the legally elected President, that's more important than whether or not he actually is.

And that's where the movie lost a lot of the reviewers, apparently, from what I've been reading on the Amazon reviews (told you I wouldn't be able to resist). It was billed as a comedy, and the beginning of the movie was funny, so they felt betrayed when it turned serious. I truly do not think that the movie changed directions--it's more that the viewers
' expectations did. Which is, I think, the fault of the marketing department.

Given the way the story is set up in the first half, there's no other way it could have played out in the second. The computer company's willingness to overlook the problem and the huge amount of money riding on the program was introduced early on. There's no way you can make that funny, and no way you can resolve it in an amusing way without being unbelievable.

And much as the ending pained me, there was no way it could have ended differently, either. The ending message is that maybe the crisis would prompt politicians to act differently in the future, but, call me a cynic, I wouldn't count on it.

Which is the other reason I think that a lot of viewers disliked the movie: "It couldn't happen here." I think (hope) it made people uncomfortable to think that people in positions of power really can be that ruthless. Hopefully, after they've vented about movies that "aren't really comedies," a little spark will linger in the backs of their heads.

My biggest pet peeve: the "problem" with the software. I'm not even going to spoiler it, because it's really, really stupid, and it's not much of a revelation, anyway: the program had a glitch that made it automatically select a name with double letters in it as the winner. It would have been much better to leave the actual glitch vague than to come up with something that idiotic.

If you're a programmer, and that seems logical to you, please let me know. I'll feel so much better about it.

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I watched this on the plane to Florida, and *yawn*. I think I laughed once. Maybe. (And that was at one of Lewis Black's lines.) And it pained me to see the way they wasted Christopher Walken.

I'm not a programmer, but I'd be shocked if a bug like that could ever crop up. I'd have been much happier with the movie if it had followed real life more closely -- i.e., if the Diebold-like company had been in the pocket of one of the politicians.

Sorry, just had to kvetch when I saw four stars for this one!
I wondered if they'd deliberately made it unbelievable--call me a cynic.

Christopher Walken was wasted, and so was Jeff Goldblum. Eh. I still enjoyed it. Probably partly because I wasn't necessarily expecting a comedy (I hadn't even seen the movie posters). And partly because I enjoyed thinking of Stewart or Colbert running for office. :)
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