Movie review: Jon Stewart’s political comedy ‘Irresistible’ falls flat
Jon Stewart, bless his liberal heart, certainly means well with his initiative to reform the body politic through the ironically titled “Irresistible.” But the message is likely to fall upon deaf ears and sleepy eyes. I don’t want to label as folly his tale of a former Hillary Clinton operative attempting to make sense of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential victory by volunteering to front a mayoral campaign in rural Wisconsin. But I doubt anyone will be onboard with his peculiar idiot-ology.
Instead of altruism, Stewart - in his second stint as a writer-director - approaches the material through cynicism and condescension. He’s also shooting fish in a barrel by pointing out the corrupting influence of money. If you’re surprised by the notion of lobbyists and PACs dirtying the political waters to the extent we no longer see the vermin swimming at the bottom, by all means give into Stewart’s smirky agenda. All others will be better served by reading a newspaper or watching the infinitely better political satire, “Man with a Plan,” John O’Brien’s 1996 cult classic about a Vermont dairy farmer running for Congress.
There are moments here when it feels like Stewart pinched a lot of material from “Man with a Plan,” particularly in building his movie around another folksy farmer whose practicality is an efface to the insanity of how we elect our money-grubbing leaders. Democrat or Republican, they’re all scoundrels with re-election being a stronger impetus than serving their constituents. What a revelation!
It helps immeasurably that said farmer is played by the incomparable Chris Cooper, an actor oozing the kind of folksy charm you’d expect of a native Midwesterner. His Jack Hastings, a dyed-in-the-wool agrarian with a Marine background, makes you instantly want to vote for him. Which is a nice contrast to fellow South Shore resident Steve Carell as the sleazy Washington insider recruiting Jack to take on the burly mayoral incumbent (Brent Sexton) in the cheesy Wisconsin hamlet of Deerlaken, home to the world’s most savory streusel.
Carell is uncharacteristically lazy in the role, making his Gary Zimmer, aka D.C. Gary, about as interesting as polling data. Part of the problem is Stewart failing to give his old “Daily Show” chum much to work with beyond cliché. Heck, he can’t even provide Carell a decent love interest, although he offers up two opportunities in Rose Byrne’s Faith Brewster, a long-time, blood-seeking rival who arrives in Deerlaken to aggravate Gary by running the incumbent mayor’s campaign, and Mackenzie Davis as the farmer’s fresh-faced daughter. Carell has zero chemistry with both. Not that Stewart does him any favors by keeping the relationships so thinly written they barely register.
Topher Grace and Natasha Lyonne don’t fare much better as Gary’s top assistants. Blink and you’ll probably miss them. Blame that on Stewart, taking a step backward from his last filmmaking effort, 2014’s “Rosewater,” in offering little to indicate he’s cut out for this line of work. His plotting is scattershot, unfocused and his stabs at satirical humor rarely connect. Worse, his movies are largely lethargic and draggy.
There’s little that grabs you, inspires you or entertains you. His calling is, and has always been, punditry. We get a taste of that during the closing credits via a snippet of an interview he conducts with Trevor Potter in which the former Federal Election Commission chairman discusses the dangerous flaws in how we choose our representatives in Washington and state capitals. No surprise, it’s the best thing in the movie - and the scariest. It instills the level of rage the previous 90 minutes failed to stir. In the end, like our current political climate, “Irresistible” is blind, self-serving and totally out of touch with the common man, mistaking drivel for activism.
Al Alexander may be reached at email@example.com.
Cast includes Steve Carell, Chris Cooper, Rose Byrne, Mackenzie Davis, Topher Grace and Natasha Lyonne. Available for rent starting June 26 on all platforms.
(R for language including sexual references.)