THE QUICK HIT: What if Tom Dobbs, TV’s most irreverent political satirist and host of a beloved fake news show, ran for president—and won?

THE BIG PICTURE: Robin Williams plays the aforementioned satirist, and while he could have risen to the occasion, Dobbs has none of the wit and charm of his doppelgänger (guess who/don’t sue) Jon Stewart. Nope. After an audience member suggests Dobbs run for prez, he gasp! takes it seriously! So seriously that we have to bear what was already fairly beat political humor being dulled to humor-free and overearnest. Even his TV-show production staff, who switch tasks to become his election campaigners, beg Dobbs to be funnier. We in the audience are begging as well. One breath of fresh air: Christopher Walken as Dobbs’ rheumy talent agent/campaign manager Jack Menken. He smokes, he drinks, he’s at death’s door, and he utters wry strange asides that are usually ten times funnier than the lines given Williams as Dobbs, such as confessions about working in the circus as a boy.

Care for an example of Dobbs’ lines that fall flat? Okay, how about this stale old joke about gay marriage: “You want an amendment against same-sex marriage! Anyone who’s ever been married knows it’s always the same sex!” A real side-splitter. Or so you’d think from the way Dobbs’ campaign staffers laugh themselves sick over his every weak-ass quip. The truth is this: because Jon Stewart really exists, because he is really smart and fresh and funny, this Dobbs is a dud.

And because Barry Levinson is certain a film about a comedian running for president and winning can’t possibly be enough, we get the requisite romance subplot. At least they had the sense to cast understated Laura Linney as whistleblower Eleanor Green. But here’s where writer-director Levinson gets fancy: Eleanor works for the company that makes the electronic voting machines! And she has dutifully tested the machines out—and discovered a glitch that declares the wrong candidate the winner! And now evil Delacroy computers’ top management (including a deliciously sinister Jeff Goldblum) want to get rid of her! Or prove she’s crazy so no one will listen to her!

That was a lot of exclamation points. Because this plot twist is too much. The film didn’t need to go there with such juicy initial potential. But it did. Shame really. The first mistake was casting Williams—who let’s face it, has a high ham factor. They should have chosen an actor with a twinkle in his eye, not someone who has to shout and tap dance all over the stage. Dobbs’ seemingly endless tirade during the televised debate scene is cringe-worthy. The second mistake was having such a cornball computer glitch when a simple ballot miscount would have done. Hmmm, so candidates’ names that have double letters trip up this sophisticated system? Um … dumb. Man of the Year is Dud of the Year.

TECHNICAL MUMBO-JUMBO: Bah! Who cares with this loser. Anyone dopey enough to buy it on DVD can file it on the shelf right next to Patch Adams and Hook.

Grade: D-

DIRECTOR: Barry Levinson
CAST: Robin Williams, Christopher Walken, Laura Linney, Lewis Black, Jeff Goldblum

Review by Sha Harrison