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'Man of the Year' an election season gift

"Man of the Year" is the equivalent of a political Christmas present, wrapped and delivered less than three weeks before the fall election. Not knowing exactly what to get the audience, and wanting not to disappoint, Barry Levinson, writer and director, had a film boxed up that has pretty much everything you might want in a film of this ilk. And more.

The first act is pure political satire wherein Robin Williams, who portrays Tom Dobbs, a stand-up comedian, goes on a signature Williams riff, covering just about everything the Bush administration, and politicians in general, do to get elected and then stay in office.

Williams' free flowing rants are pure genius, hence act one is filled with commentary about our political system that is funny, caustic and on point. Actually, the entire movie would have been poignantly funny had it been just a sit down with Williams with an interviewer pitching questions (he doesn't need many) while he free associates. Williams is irreverent, wonderfully informed, and possesses a stunningly nimble mind. The last time Williams and Levinson teamed up, the result was "Good Morning Vietnam," a movie that allowed Williams enormous latitude with a wonderful result.

Regrettably, Levinson takes the film far beyond where it needs to go. Not only does Williams become a candidate for president &

as improbable as that sounds &

the film abruptly shifts into a political thriller and budding love story, losing its edge, and opening Levinson to the criticism that he didn't know what kind of film he wanted to make so he created a Hollywood hybrid. As a love story, there is little spark. As a thriller, with bad guys willing to do anything to protect questionable election results, it works, barely.

But it's not much of a stretch to argue that it's worth two hours to see "Man of the Year," if only to be reminded that our political system is flawed and in urgent need of repair. Candidates are terrified of speaking the truth, wanting to be all things to all voters; lobbyists and special interest groups have inserted themselves into the system, corrupting the process with cash; far too many voters have cynically bowed out; and there is the insidious sense that cable news has all but decided that entertainment trumps hard news, and the John Karrs and Anna Nicole Smiths are far more interesting than Kim Jong II or Darfur. In fact, voters embrace Williams because he makes them laugh and is relentlessly candid. What he isn't prepared to be is president. But no matter, thousands would rather get their news from Jon Stewart on Comedy Central than tune into CNN.