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Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2006 05:14 am

Joke's on you

Showboat muddles up Man of the Year

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Man of the YearRunning time 1:50Rated PG-13

The timing couldn’t be better for the release of Barry Levinson’s political satire Man of the Year. With Republicans in turmoil over the erupting congressional sex scandal, audiences should be primed to see the most powerful legislative body in the land and its members skewered. Unfortunately, Levinson’s film lacks the bite you’d expect from the director of Wag the Dog. Instead, what we get with Man is a film that can’t overcome the oversized personality of its star and gets bogged down with needless subplots.

Robin Williams stars as Tom Dobbs, an intelligent comic who’s no stranger to taking potshots at those in office. Urged by the viewers of his nightly program to run for president and encouraged by his pragmatic manager (Christopher Walken) and head writer (Lewis Black) to toss his hat in the ring, Dobbs gets on the ballot in the largest states and wages his campaign over the airwaves and the Internet. The publicity stunt turns serious after a key presidential debate, and, wouldn’t you know it, Dobbs gets elected. Too bad the election itself winds up being a fraud, and it falls on Eleanor Green (Laura Linney), an employee of the company that made defective voting machines, to explain the mess to Dobbs.

The cast does a fine job; Walken and Black deliver the sort of memorable supporting turns you’d expect, and Jeff Goldblum, as a slimy corporate lackey, and Linney make their moments count as well. It’s too bad that Williams, with his “hey, look at me” persona, becomes a distraction here, hogging the spotlight and showboating.

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