Thursday, February 22, 2007

Will there be a third act for Barry Levinson's film career?

I finally watched Barry Levinson's MAN OF THE YEAR (you know the concept: Robin Williams as a TV political comic who runs for President on a third-party ticket and wins) and found it a puree of elements from GOOD MORNING VIETNAM, WAG THE DOG, DISCLOSURE, TOYS--plus the TV-is-evil bull that marred the third act of AVALON.

Some disclosure needs to be repeated here: I was Joe Pesci's stand-in on Levinson's JIMMY HOLLYWOOD--a needlessly unpleasant experience for people working on it, myself included.

Regardless I think that Levinson (as both auteur and studio hired gun) has directed and/or written films that are overdue for an American Cinematheque retrospective: AND JUSTICE FOR ALL (written with former wife Valerie Curtin), DINER, TIN MEN, THE NATURAL, RAIN MAN, AVALON, BUGSY, GOOD MORNING VIETNAM, WAG THE DOG, BANDITS (deserving of more love than it has received) and LIBERTY HEIGHTS.

But it might be time to say that Barry needs to confine his writing/directing efforts only to further entries in his Baltimore autobiographical series.

MAN OF THE YEAR squanders its outsider-becomes-President premise by devolving into a Laura Linney-being-chased-by-evil-Silicon Valley-technocrats storyline fumbling its provocative computer-voting-can-be-fixed hook.

And, as with JIMMY HOLLYWOOD (which foresaw the manufactured amateur entertainment of "reality" television seven years before Mark Burnett's SURVIVOR--actor/vigilante Jimmy Alto is just a few degrees away from DOG THE BOUNTY HUNTER), Levinson again shows his discomfort with having outsiders as protagonists.  Robin Williams gets off a few good one-liners and interesting observations about both major parties being corrupted by big money and big lobbyists--and that (gasp!) third parties might be a viable alternative to the current flawed system.  But the film scurries away from this position by the end, settling for the "outsiders are only good for nudging the two-and it should only be two-parties towards common sense" dodge.

Levinson will be directing another Hollywood comedy--Robert DeNiro playing a takeoff of producer Art Linson (THE UNTOUCHABLES) in WHAT HAPPENED NEXT? within the next month. 

Barry Levinson--at his best--is a talented filmmaker.  It would be nice to see the last decade or so of his career be as productive and prolific in the artistic sense as peers Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood.

It would be a shame to see him crank out more slack, self-indulgent fare in the vein of MAN OF THE YEAR.


1 comment:

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