Man of the Century opens with an old-time title card and moves into the story of one man in a city of four million — New York, New York — getting out of bed (a partial iris wipe closes in on his face, revealing his name “Johnny”), dressing, shaving, and preparing breakfast — not in a kitchen but on a table set up mostly so he doesn’t have to move around a lot and for a gag of burnt toast. There is no sound but the organ music playing in the background — no dialogue, no scraping of facial hair or the burnt top of a slice of toast.

Then the playful organ tune turns into the cacophonous music of the modern city, and Johnny still walks around like he has a personal organist in his head. He’s whistling to a different tune, marching to the beat of a different drummer, and a bunch of other clich├ęs he knows by heart.

The joke — and it’s the movie’s only joke — is that Johnny Twennies (Gibson Frazier) is stuck in the movie vision of the 1920s (see, even his name is part of that gag), while the rest of the world has progressed into (or remained, if you’re a realist) a loud, hurtful, dangerous, foul-mouthed place where people don’t give a good gosh-darn about the opening of some public library, guys get fresh with a lady riding her bike to work, and dolls are looking for more than a kiss on the cheek after 27 days of courting. He doesn’t realize any of his modes of thought, dress, and speech are outdated, and that makes it an effective joke — to a point.

Johnny is, in his mind, a crack reporter for a local newspaper but really writes a daily column about something or other and covering the stories no one ever wants or wanted to read. He meets a lot of people in his line of work. His best girl, Samantha (Susan Egan), curates an art gallery and wonders if her beau is gay (“Of course, I’m gay,” he exclaims, still, as always, oblivious). He saves Virginia (Cara Buono), an aspiring opera singer, from a pair of goons who grab her in the alley and inadvertently gets her caught up with a perverted record producer (don’t ask). His photographer partner, Tim (Anthony Rapp), is an artist first and used to live with Sam’s co-worker, Richard (Dwight Ewell), at the gallery (“Roomates, huh?” Johnny, still and evermore oblivious, asks him).

I’m sure you can see how very all-in-good-fun the premise is and foresee all the clever possibilities of a man who doesn’t just believe he lives but actually does live in a fantasy. I’m also sure you can imagine how this sort of high concept gag in a relatively long-form narrative (running about an hour and a quarter) could weigh thin after co-writers Frazier (who does a great approximation of the period acting style) and director Adam Abraham (who, with cinematographer Matthew Jensen, get the period look down on an obviously diminutive budget) establish it.

That’s the case here, as Johnny tries to uncover the identity of a secret crime lord, dances the Charleston with Samantha, appears dressed in the clichéd garb of an archeologist to get to work through a dark tunnel full of hieroglyphics (it’s around this point that the cleverness starts to feel clever for its own sake), engages in another musical interlude, finds his family mansion overrun by every character in the movie in a climax that doesn’t take advantage of the bodies in the room, and, of course, dances with Samantha as the music plays the whole thing out. Man of the Century reaches that final moment too far along.

Mark Dujsik is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics Society. For more of his reviews, visit his website.

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