It's a really good idea, but Man of the Year doesn't quite come together correctly. Part of the problem is that the elements that make it up are diverse and not extreme enough; the politics is soft-handled and the paranoid thriller part isn't fully successful at generating a sense of danger. The result is diverting, but ultimately fails to live up to the promise of either genres. In addition, while Barry Levinson makes some important points about how the current political situation in the United States is dire, often his observations seem grafted onto a narrative that it doesn't quite fit. This is particularly noticable in a scene towards the end which intercuts between Laura Linney desparately trying to contact Robin Williams while Lewis Black goes on a (very valid) tirade about how the talk show format reduces the value of the informed opinion.
The cast is for the most part excellent, with some great work being turned in by Linney and Christopher Walken, but there are times when Williams seems a little uncomfortable. While some of his jokes are funny, they aren't riotous, and with the exception of the Presidential Debate, he never really brings the material to another level. Some of the best scenes are improvisations betweeen Walken, Williams and Black, which fit strangely alongside the more traditional suspense material. Now, the thriller portion of the film has its moments, but unfortunately never gels the way it is meant to, and has a marked tendency to undercut the political elements of the film (and vice versa).
Now, this is not to say the film is bad, I'm just saying that it just doesn't quite work as well as it should. This is particularly disappointing when one considers how that Levinson made one of the best political satires of recent years, Wag the Dog, which was spiky and relevant when it was made in 1997... and holds up just fine almost a decade later. And that was a film made by Levinson and Dustin Hoffman while waiting to make the clunker Sphere (which did have a very good Elliot Goldenthal score, though). The real problem is that while Wag the Dog was a satire above all other things, this film is trying too hard to be politically unassailable that it isn't able to be focused. This means that the satire isn't really satirical, the humor aimed at diffuse targets and never has a chance to have any bite. I'm not saying that every political film should be Medium Cool, but this film could have used some more of that movie's chutzpah.
In this job, sometimes you're dropped into situations that are just frustrating. I had a repair today; I went to the site only to find that the circuit I had the trouble ticket on was working, but that there was another that had a reported failure on it; since each circuit belonged to a different bureau, I ended up on a ludicrous conference call with about nine people on the phone, only four of whom seemed to know jack about anything. Luckily, I am gifted with both a direct (but polite) manner and a very loud speaking voice, and so I was able to cut through at least some of the bullshit. The worst part about it is that the guy who was the central hub for all this information was clearly unfamiliar with the technology in question, and so a relatively simple situation took close to an hour to get any sort of resolution because every single time he opened his mouth, something made clear by somebody on the phone, he would just obfuscate it.