Remember when CNN’s Larry King prodded Ross Perot to run for president in 1992 against George Bush and Bill Clinton? In the unexpectedly straight-faced Man of the Year Jon Stewart-ish fake TV newsman Tom Dobbs (Williams) makes a similar White House run at a fan’s urging. And the sharp-tongued finger-pointing political satirist wins. But think again if you next expect director/writer Barry Levinson—the brains behind Wag the Dog—to explore the comic possibilities of a president trying to run the country without Democratic or Republican support. Instead Levinson’s stupidity turns Man of the Year into an overwrought cautionary tale about e-voting. See a computer voting error accidentally manipulated the results in Dobbs’ favor. But rather than examine the fallout of a tainted election Man of the Year quickly and preposterously goes from The Candidate to Enemy of the State. Levinson unwisely shifts his attention to the woman responsible for discovering the glitch in her company’s electronic voting system. While the president-elect makes public appearances dressed as George Washington Eleanor Green (Laura Linney) discovers that her bosses will do anything—including resorting to violence—to stop her from going public for fear the scandal would bankrupt their company. Having worked together on Good Morning Vietnam and Toys Levinson knows when to let Williams cut loose. Accordingly the motor-mouthed master of improv doesn’t hold back especially when he’s riffing on issues of the day with his advisors (played with uncharacteristic restraint by a wheel-bound Christopher Walken and with much jittery arm-waving by standup comedian Lewis Black). More often than not though Williams can be overbearing and Levinson’s too afraid to tell him to stop. But when events turn serious and Dobbs runs out of wisecracks the schmaltzy annoying Williams of Patch Adams rears his ugly head. And then you can’t wait for Williams to again go all wild and crazy. Unfortunately that’s doesn’t happen too much after Linney’s Eleanor Green rains on Dobbs’ victory parade. You have to pity Linney. While everyone else is joking about appointing Bruce Springsteen secretary of state she finds herself at the center of a conspiracy that not even Will Smith could survive in one piece. And the usually sturdy Linney unfortunately cracks under the pressure. She looks lost haggard and sadly uncomfortable whenever she’s in Williams’ presence. Man of the Year is a greatest act of cowardice committed to film this year by a director with much to gain and everything to lose. And that’s a shock considering Levinson—who made his name with Diner and Tin Men—desperately needs to restore his tarnished reputation after the disastrous Bandits Envy and Sphere. There’s no denying that Man of the Year had potential. The current climate lends itself to an honest and enterprising exploration of a serious challenge to the two-party political system. Had he settled on making another stinging satire in the vein of Wag the Dog Levinson would have gotten away with such an unbelievable post-election turn of events. But Man of the Year is not the wacky sitcom-ish farce its trailer suggests. It’s too grim and cumbersome for its own good and that unfortunately renders Levinson’s efforts a waste and his intentions politically irrelevant. Surely Levinson should have realized that what worked once for him with Wag the Dog would have worked again with Man of the Year. Judging by this mess and his recent misfires Levinson’s clearly lost his touch—and his nerve.
Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector opens with a man scratching his plumber’s-crack re-using a cotton swab to clean his ear and wearing the sleeveless shirt he uses as a towel. Naturally this is Larry (the Cable Guy) a health inspector. Halfheartedly inspecting the local food joints he’s leading the life that suits him well. But when his boss (Thomas F. Wilson) assigns him a serious-minded female partner (Iris Bahr) his world is turned upside down--or at least made less comfy. Larry’s called in to investigate “some fartin’ Jewish folks” at a swankier restaurant and learns that it’s not an isolated incident. While Larry’s unorthodox methods manage to arouse the interest of a waitress (Megyn Price) with bowel habits that he adores his tactics arouse the ire of the restaurateurs he investigates and it costs him his job. Now he’s forced to do whatever it takes to prove his innocence. Even the D-listers here must’ve gone straight to confession upon accepting these roles to help cushion their bank accounts. Let’s start with Larry the Cable Guy (of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour “Git-R-Done” fame) who is one of the most successful stand-up comics today. He’s right in his element seemingly with fart blanche on toilet humor but to the unconverted he’s a little more than grating. Speaking of grating the (hopefully) affected voice of Bahr makes the movie mostly unlistenable in addition to being unwatchable. But take pity on her for this is no way to jumpstart a movie career. Tony Hale clearly still reeling from the potential cancellation of TV’s Arrested Development (on which he plays Buster) also lowers his star and integrity with an ambiguous character here. And Joe Pantoliano shows his face. The once great character actor reaches a new low with this one even if his performance isn’t all bad. Health Inspector masters the art of the fart. But more disgusting than the settings with which the farts are juxtaposed is the ad nauseam (pun intended) level of over-usage. So congratulations go to along with fart Yoda Larry the Cable Guy director Trent Cooper who makes his feature directorial debut. And might we add what a fart-tastic debut it is! But it’s not all farts ladies and gentleman--all forms of gross-out humor are exploited unlike ever before. On the er serious side the collection of running jokes adds to a few legit laughs. Cooper helms a story that naturally doesn’t work deferring instead to Larry’s natural um charisma. The script offers no segue into Larry’s stand-up persona but anyone who sees this here flick ain’t lookin’ for no dang Oscar winner. Clearly Health Inspector will appeal to Larry’s following but is not meant for those of sound mind.
October 09, 2001 1:35pm EST
Young Max Keeble (Alex D. Linz) is starting his first day of junior high school. After dreaming about how great it will be he soon learns there are bullies attractive girls who don't know his name and worse his family is going to move in a week. Amidst all of this pressure he decides that he has nothing to lose by bucking the system and taking the horse by the reins. Max thinks that his big move at the end of the week gives him the freedom to make that figurative "big move" against all the irritants in his life without retribution. He recruits best friends Megan (Zena Grey) and Robe (Josh Peck) to help him out and they "get even" (with comical effort) with the evil ice cream man the school tough guys and the egotistical principal. While the story is predictable it reaches beyond the "good guys always win" theme as Max realizes he can play by the rules and still have a good time.
Linz is Max Keeble the short cute moral hero. Despite his nerdy parents he seems to have inherited a pretty broad perspective for a kid: he genuinely takes everybody for face value and even affords them a second chance. He mixes well with the other actors taking the lead with natural rather than forced savvy. Grey as best friend Megan the small-but-spunky redhead who dons a different funky hairstyle with each new day of school compliments Linz's performance yet holds her own. Peck is Robe the pleasantly plump kid who doesn't care what anyone thinks of him. Orlando Brown is lunch money purloiner Dobbs who has a minor but creative role as a kid ready to "invest" everyone's funds with--or without--their permission. The adults should get some credit too. Principal Jindraike's (Larry Miller) obvious malapropisms word creations and animal dances lend further comic relief.
This movie plays on all the current fads of the day including sports songs and lingo. There's a cameo appearance by skateboard pioneer Tony Hawk; we hear the recurring melody of Britney Spears' song "Baby One More Time" whenever the hot 9th grade girl walks onto the set; and Max tells us right away that he has "phatitude"-- that is he's got a phat (cool) attitude. Obviously director Tim Hill is familiar with what kids like and with a resume loaded with Nickelodeon and Disney projects it is clear he's kept up on his homework. The major criticism comes with the pretty flat telling of the story: it unfolds chronologically without implementing many interesting edits or camera angles where there are perfect places to do so.