By Owen Gleiberman
Updated November 05, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

In contemporary Manhattan, we meet a twinkly-eyed, happy-chinned newspaper columnist named Johnny Twennies, who, despite his silent-movie moniker, appears to have stepped out of a white-marbled cosmopolitan talkie of the early ’30s. Johnny knows no emotion besides cockeyed optimism, and he speaks in rat-a-tat bursts of down-to-the-deadline slang (”You keep ridin’ me like this, you’re going to have to pay the fare!”).

As played by co-screenwriter Gibson Frazier, who in profile bears a nifty resemblance to George Gershwin, Johnny has no conflicts, no inner life; he’s a pre-Freudian swell stuck in a post-Freudian world. That’s a resonant gimmick for a movie — at least it was when Woody Allen first tried it in ”The Purple Rose of Cairo.” But director-cowriter Adam Abraham hasn’t thought out Man of the Century beyond the handsome black-and-white cinematography and one thin, likable gag. He’s made a premise masquerading as a movie.