Jon Stewart could have hammered President Donald Trump like every other late night host in his second feature film.
That’s not why the “Daily Show” alum wrote and directed “Irresistible.”
Stewart’s comedy skewers the role money plays in Washington. It’s an easy target, lazy even, and there’s little new or enlightening to be shared. That leaves a third act that’s both pipe dream pathetic and out of sync with the story up until then.
Which, for the record, is charming and funny before that absurd coda.
Steve Carell plays Gary Zimmer, a Clinton “consigliere” still licking his wounds from Trump’s election. The latter is visualized by that classic clip of a man taking a cannonball in his gut.
Gary feels even worse than that fella, but he stumbles on an idea that could tip the scales in the Democrats’ favor. Trump won, in part, by reaching out to rural USA. Why can’t Democrats do the same?
So when he sees a video of former Marine Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper) defending illegal immigrants (‘illegal’ is never said, natch) he gets an idea. What if he helped Jack run for mayor of his tiny Wisconsin town and used the campaign as a national referendum?
See, America, Democrats love the military, guns and people of faith! Why, Jack could help win back those Trump voters. There’s one small hitch, though.
“He’s a Democrat?” one person asks about Jack. “He just doesn’t know it yet,” Gary replies, one of many sharp lines in Stewart’s screenplay.
Gary’s plan looks promising, but that’s before his rival, Republican strategist Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne), counters his Wisconsin move … in person.
Let the battle begin.
The plot, on the surface, is the product of pure liberal fantasy. The progressive base loathes guns, is wary of religion and doesn’t line up to salute Small Town USA. Remember the Chik-fil-A wars?
Still, that’s the film’s hook, and we’ll have to run with it.
“Irresistible” opens with the Bob Seger classic “Still the Same,” the first of many on-the-nose jab at the U.S. political system. It’s still a great song, and the montage of presidential photos is pretty darn fair and balanced.
That mostly describes “Irresistible,” too, a surprise given the source of the shenanigans. Stewart created the hard-left template today’s liberal hosts emulate, down to selective editing and frequent cussing.
His target here is money, money money, but he doesn’t have much fresh to say on the subject. That doesn’t matter for the film’s first half, which is brisk, funny and filled with humane morsels. Watching Gary melt over locally baked pastries is a comic treat few could sell like Carell.
Even better is a cameo by Debra Messing as a Democrat in full pander mode.That’s the kind of observation missing from the current late night lineup. Kudos to Stewart for including it here.
Speaking of pandering, “Irresistible” does a little of just that while showing the Wisconsin locals. They’re uniformly sweet and kind, their flaws surgically removed.
Something’s missing from Jack, too. Cooper can bring texture to any role, but his Jack Hastings deserves a rewrite. What does he really think about the circus around him? We see glimpses, including a curious speech at a swanky fundraiser. Still, his authentic voice isn’t a big part of “Irresistible.” He’s a pawn in the game, but we need more of him.
Carell’s clueless shtick powers the film’s first act, with Stewart regularly mocking Gary’s less than authentic nature. He’s a Beltway snob who thinks ordering a “burger and a Bud” will let him blend with the locals.
He’s so lost in flyover country he punches up “Wisconsin” on Wikipedia.com. Smart stuff.
What’s missing in “Irresistible?” Politics. There’s some talk of needing an ID to nab basic services and how Jack’s town is struggling after the plant closing. Hot button issues are kept to the sidelines. The subject is campaigning in the modern era, and all the ridiculous rules that follows.
The unspoken theme? Only the government can help struggling communities like the fictional Deerlaken, Wisconsin.
The plot, on the surface, is the product of pure liberal fantasy.
The film’s second half isn’t as smart, or funny as the set up. The campaign is afoot, and the highlights here all belong to Byrne. Gary’s nemesis doesn’t just love a good fight. She’d marry one, or at least give its face a good, long lick.
Byrne, as always, brings crisp comic timing, a dash of sexiness and a vibrant edge to every scene. In a sane world she’d star in a comic franchise all her own.
Those eager to find bias in “Irresistible” will find some, but you may have to squint. The set up suggests the leanings at the heart of Stewart’s yarn. Faith lies as easily as breathing, while Carell is just D.C.-level slimey. A more fair film would show Carell bending the truth, but given Hollywood’s relentless bias that counts as nit picking.
“Irresistible” could have been an instant classic had it churned out funnier bits in the second act and structured an ending that proved both comic and inspiring. Instead, it’s as if Stewart watched “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and let his imagination run three steps ahead of him.
HiT or Miss: “Irresistible” should engage both conservatives and liberals, and they’ll all shake their headd at the film’s final twist.