Extra, extra, read all about it!
Movie wows public!
"Miracle," sez Prez.
"Unprecedented," opines speaker.
"Will be investigated," vows DA.
The movie in question, "Man of the Century," is even more of a wow because it opens in the massive shadow of Arnold Schwarzenegger's "End of Days," a stupendous stupefaction if ever there was one. All that money, all that preposterousness, all that waste. But "Man" shows the other side of the coin: that smart kids with a good idea can make a terrific film on a little-bitty budget.
It's the story of Johnny Twennies, boy reporter. You know Johnny. "Oh, you kid" and "23 skiddoo" and "It's the jake," he's every aspiring news hound from the days when every city had half a dozen news rags, four in the ayem, two in the peeyem, and each rag had seven editions, from the bulldog up through the seven-star final. The paper was thrown together out of hot metal by wise guys on the fly, with a quip on their tongues, a smoke in their lips and a flask of hooch in their pockets. The only computer was in your noggin. Johnny is the eternal flaming youth of journalism when journalism itself was flaming youth.
The only problem for Johnny: It's 1999.
That's the charm of Adam Abraham and Gibson Frazier's "Man of the Century": Johnny (Frazier), in his three-piece suits, his fedora, his unfiltered cigarettes and his American vernacular that would sound familiar only to H.L. Mencken, is unstuck in time. Not funny? No, but the wrinkle is funny: He doesn't notice, not really. He keeps banging hard against the weirdnesses of the late '90s, showing a little befuddlement; but ever optimistic, he just shakes it off and keeps going. "Water off a duck's back," he'll proclaim in that yappy mile-a-minute patter of his, straight out of "The Front Page."
Abraham and Frazier wrote it. Abraham directed it, and Frazier acts it with a vengeance. I suppose it's a trick, and that Johnny Twennies is really Johnny One-Note. But so committed is Frazier to the conceit and so pitch-perfect and chipper is his delivery, so ironclad is his confidence, so brazen is his trajectory and so complete his transformation, that he's continuously amusing over the film's thankfully short arc. It's smart enough, to boot, to know when its time is up, and it's off the screen 10 minutes before that.
The story, filmed in the friendly hues of our old friends Mr. Black and Mr. White and animated by the appropriate music of the '20s, is silly but adequate for the purposes. In modern New York, Johnny is looking for that big scoop that'll save his paper, the lowly Sun-Telegram, while at the same time trying to spoon with his gal, Samantha (Susan Egan). She doesn't want to spoon; she's a modern: She just wants to have fun. S-x? Why, you don't have s-x until you've been married five years, and then only on Saturday nights during the winter.
"Are you gay?" she asks, stunned.
"Gay? Gay, of course I'm gay!" he says with rampant joie de verve.
When Johnny is assigned a photographer, he thinks it makes good sense that Tim (Anthony Rapp) lives with a roommate. "Two fellas can save a fancy dime sharing expenses!" he declares, completely given over to Not Getting It.
The plot is the movie's least interesting thing--it's really just a pretext for the bit. It seems to have something to do with Johnny's crusade to find out who's Mr. Big in the dope rackets and get his pic into the Sun-Telegram. Soon enough two thugs with real guns are on his tail, but that doesn't deter him. He punches them out (his fists missing by a good three inches), and they go flying backward. The movie just flies along through silly twists, Johnny never getting it but soldiering ever onward.
Oh, yes. It's also a musical, with no less than the likes of the great Bobby Short warbling in a dinner jacket to the tunes of a band fronted by the authentic Lester Lanin. Oh, my. Black-and-white photography, Bobby Short, starched collars, the Charleston. In the meantime, in between time, ain't we got fun?
Man of the Century (79 minutes, at the Cineplex Odeon Inner Circle) is rated R for profanity.
CAPTION: Susan Egan and Gibson Frazier in the '20s-something spoof "Man of the Century."