Tom Dobbs is the host of a Daily Show-style political talk show. Tom Dobbs has a lot to say about our government. And Tom Dobbs has the acerbic wit to make people listen and laugh out their agreement.
Tom Dobbs has decided he’s going to run for President. And he ends up on the ballot in 13 states.
In the meantime, Eleanor, a computer tech at Delacroy Systems, the newly nationalized electronic voting booth company, discovers a glitch in the program. Since his fortunes are on the line and there’s too little time to fix the problem, the company’s chief executive sweeps the trouble under the rug. And the glitch proceeds to elect Tom Dobbs as the next President of the United States of America.
When Jack, Tom’s friend and manager, falls ill with emphysema, Tom sets aside election celebrations to spend the night by his bedside.
More importantly, [Spoiler Warning] Eleanor and Tom are both willing to put the truth above their own personal desires. Eleanor spills the beans about the corrupted voting program in spite of the fact that her life is being threatened and she thinks Tom would be the best man for the job. When she reveals the facts to Tom, he’s willing to give up the Presidency for the sake of the truth as well. In the end, he does just that.
During his numerous harangues, though they be filled with jokes and one-liners, Tom makes thought-provoking statements about party politics, personal integrity, the power of the media and the damage that can be inflicted by big-spending special interest groups.
Tom jokes about how much fun it would be if the Pope was Brazilian and nuns wore thongs.
Eleanor is seen wrapped in a towel. She and a TV moderator both show a little cleavage.
But the real sexual content comes in the form of a tidal wave of sexual humor spilled out by Tom. His rants contain flippant, crude, slang references to sexual foreplay, sexual harassment, oral sex, sex with animals, sex with trees, gay sex, married sex, prostitution, pimps, a succubus, masturbation, pornography, porn stars, genitalia, groupies, panties, breasts and implants. He also includes a number of rude double entendres and physical gestures (grabbing breasts, pumping hips and grabbing crotches).
Tom makes a point of informing the press that he’s single and therefore craves sex. He rattles off a list of his past “indiscretions,” soliciting a prostitute among them.
When Eleanor is making a call from a phone booth, a man tries to kill her by smashing through the booth with his SUV. Eleanor leaps out of the way, but is hurt badly enough that she is put on a stretcher and taken to the hospital. Another Delacroy-hired goon roughly drags Eleanor to his car. To get away she hits him in the face with the car door, splitting his nose open. In her apartment, Eleanor is jumped by a man who injects her with a needle.
One f-word. About a dozen s-words. “H—” is heard a half-dozen times. “A–,” b–ch,” “d–n” and “bastard” are all tossed out at least once. God’s name is interjected a handful of times; Jesus’ once.
Eleanor is injected with a mixture of potent drugs (including cocaine, Benzedrine and morphine) which makes her extremely jittery and causes her to impatiently scream at people. Eventually she’s sent to the hospital. Delacroy Systems uses this “fact” to discredit Eleanor by announcing that she has a drug problem.
People drink alcohol at an election-day party and at a bar. All the lead characters drink wine at a Thanksgiving Day dinner. Tom brings Jack a bottle of wine when he’s in the hospital.
Jack smokes in almost every scene, even after he’s treated at the hospital for emphysema. He brags that he began smoking when he was 7 years old. But his devotion to tobacco is presented as a cautionary tale since the ravages of his tobacco-induced disease are on full display. On election night, while he’s at the hospital, he wearily tells Tom, “This is the happiest night of my life, and I can’t even stay awake.”
When asked by the press if he’s ever used drugs, Tom shares his thoughts on smoking marijuana: “It’s lit. It’s in my hand. What the h—!”
Along with political and sexual humor, potty humor abounds. Tom riffs on airport strip searches, diaper changing, “farting” and enemas. He dismisses questions about Intelligent Design by making fun of the locations of sexual and excretory organs. He also tells jokes about Jews trying to kill Hitler.
It’s said you should never talk about religion or politics at social gatherings or in mixed company. And it’s plain to see why. Those two subjects, above all others, get people fired up. Man of the Year isn’t interested in preserving social etiquette, so Tom Dobbs voices his political opinions as loudly and as humorously as he can. Ostensibly, he does so for a noble cause: to encourage us to get involved in our political process and fight against misuses of power. And he proves his motivations by how he wears his honest ethics on his sleeve when push comes to shove.
However, there’s something else here, too. Early in the movie, Delacroy CEO Alan Stewart lectures Eleanor about her duty to clam up about the computer glitch. “Perception of legitimacy is more important than legitimacy,” he emphatically insists. It’s not true, of course, and by putting the line in the mouth of the movie’s bad guy, director Barry Levinson (Wag the Dog, Good Morning Vietnam) makes sure you don’t think it is. But in a way, he commits the same intellectual “crime” Stewart does. With its hyperbolic tales of stolen elections and callous cover-ups, it lends a sort of credence to what cynics and conspiracy theorists want everyone to believe about the current state of politics: that there’s nothing good that can come from Washington. The truth of the matter is that some politicians are corrupt. Others aren’t. But Man of the Year wants you to walk out of the theater brooding that nothing works at all. Never mind that it ends with a stray line about the president doing a slightly better job in the wake of Tom Dobbs’ feather ruffling.
That said, I’ll give credit where credit is due. One of the film’s most instructive moments comes when Dobbs appears on Saturday Night Live. He figuratively embraces audience members with humor and affection, then smacks them on the back of the head for what he considers to be a major flaw in their appreciation and support of him as a presidential candidate. “You’re voting for change for the sake of change,” he chides. So while reinforcing the idea that all politicians are paid off, Levinson refuses to recommend a wholesale upending of the apple cart just for the fun of it.
Ignore the rules if you want to and while away the time at your next social engagement arguing about Man of the Year‘s politics. They aren’t what torpedo this film’s campaign. That’s done courtesy of brazenly unabashed “humor” related to drug use, pornography, prostitution, masturbation, gay marriage, bestiality and oral sex. I kept asking myself, Why is it that the guy with the cleanest politics is also the guy with the dirtiest mouth?
A fine-print postscript: Neither Tom Dobbs nor the Friends of Tom Dobbs for President election committee have approved this review.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.