Movie review: Jon Stewart's strained political satire not quite 'Irresistible'

  • Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell) tries to persuade a Wisconsin farmer to run for office in Jon Stewart's political satire "Irresistible."

    Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell) tries to persuade a Wisconsin farmer to run for office in Jon Stewart's political satire "Irresistible." Courtesy of Focus Features

  • Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell), right, talks a Wisconsin farmer (Chris Cooper) into running for office in Jon Stewart's political satire "Irresistible."

    Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell), right, talks a Wisconsin farmer (Chris Cooper) into running for office in Jon Stewart's political satire "Irresistible." Courtesy of Focus Features

  • A Democratic campaign adviser (Steve Carell) squares off with a GOP counterpart (Rose Byrne) in a battle for the political soul of a small Wisconsin town in "Irresistible."

    A Democratic campaign adviser (Steve Carell) squares off with a GOP counterpart (Rose Byrne) in a battle for the political soul of a small Wisconsin town in "Irresistible." Courtesy of Focus Features

 
 
Updated 6/25/2020 7:43 AM

Director/writer Jon Stewart's second feature film "Irresistible" turns out to be a surprising bit of investigative reporting camouflaged as an irreverent, curiously edgeless political satire.

The first hour of this low-key trout-out-of-water comedy plods along with lengthy setups to tepid punchlines before it eventually stumbles into a documentary/fiction hybrid (think Adam McKay's "The Big Short") indicting the corruptive impact of big money in campaign spending.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

When Stewart announced plans for the movie in 2018, its idea seemed pertinent and timely. But now in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement and political fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, the content feels far too safe, quaint and less relevant.

The main character here, a cynical and elitely snooty Democratic campaign consultant named Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell), still can't quite believe Donald Trump won the recent presidential race.

The stunned Democrats need to regroup. They need to retool. They need to find a political messiah.

Then Gary sees the light.

Or at least an illuminating YouTube video someone shot of retired U.S. Marine Colonel Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper) -- now a farmer from the small Wisconsin town of Deerlaken -- standing up for local immigrants after the closing of a military base financially crippled their community.

Hastings shames the mayor (Brent Sexton) and city council for their unjust policies. He quotes biblical scripture about being his brother's keeper.

He espouses a prescient "all in this together" philosophy before storming off in a huff.

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Gee, Hastings looks like a Trumpster, but he sure sounds like a Democrat.

The light bulb over Gary's head switches on, and he goes off to Deerlaken with an offer Hastings can easily refuse, but doesn't: run for mayor as a Democrat, and the party will finance his campaign.

Whatever it takes.

When the national GOP hears about this, it instantly dispatches hired gun Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne in gloriously ruthless femme female mode) to manage the mayor's campaign to keep his job -- at all costs.

Gary and Faith share a complex, competitive history, and their frequent verbal jousts emanate a palpable sexual vibe. (Yet, they can't match the prickly real-life repartee between now-married Democratic adviser James Carville and GOP consultant Mary Matalin).

Taking a page from Bill Clinton's 1992 playbook, Gary markets Hastings as "a redder kind of blue" who can quote both General Patton and Jesus Christ.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Soon, the Deerlaken contest becomes national news, giving Stewart easy media targets (especially FOX News) for aiding and abetting the sound-bite coverage of elections.

In his 2014 drama "Rosewater," based on the memoir "Then They Came for Me" by Maziar Bahari and Aimee Molloy, the former host of "The Daily Show" proved he could create an authentically dramatic experience, but his critically lauded film failed at the box office with a mere $3.2 million.

On the cinematic rebound, Stewart has written "Irresistible" to have the engaging, self-aware comic appeal of "The Office," but directed it with a much heavier hand than the material required.

Call it a less effective kind of satire.

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