News Flash: The American political system is corrupt, driven by greed, and fueled by money. If you need further proof, ex-Daily Show anchor Jon Stewart’s Irresistible (which he wrote and directed) spells it out for you with all the subtlety of a ball-peen hammer to the skull.
Couched as a political satire, Irresistible instead slogs its way through the muck of a pointless mayoral race in a town smaller than most people’s garages, all the while spending virtually every moment of its 102-minute run time trying to get us to like some of the most annoying and off-putting characters in recent film memory.
Steve Carell leads the festivities as Democratic strategist Gary Zimmer, who was there every step of the way with the Clintons and Obamas and then saw it all fall apart on Election Day 2016. He’s determined to get back on top and (for reasons known but to Stewart, one supposes) decides that a trip to Deerlaken, Wisconsin (population: not much) is how to get it done.
What draws Gary to the town is Colonel Hastings (Chris Cooper), a haggard farmer who started trending on YouTube after his Blue-state speech at a town council meeting. He’s a vet, drives a pick-up, and may as well have a Trump flag flying next to his barn, but he talks like a Democrat, and it makes Gary so weak in the knees that he’s on the next flight to Milwaukee.
Under the pretense of widening the Democrat base by shifting the focus away from the big cities (an on-screen graphic calls the the Colonel’s town “Rural America, Heartland, USA”), Gary eventually talks Hastings into running for mayor. The only catch is that the candidate won’t do it unless Gary stays in town and runs the show himself. Cue the fish-out-of-water jokes as our D.C. Elitist orders a Budweiser in Miller-country, asks the podunk bartender for the wi-fi password, and runs screaming from a labradoodle like a toddler with PTSD.
Eventually, the Colonel’s campaign gains momentum and catches the eye of the GOP, who dispatches Gary’s nemesis—strategist Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne)—to level the playing field. Before long, the race is making national headlines, is the topic du jour on the cable news channels, and turns sleepy little Deerlaken into the epicenter of the U.S. political landscape. What should then develop as a stinging satire, though, instead plays out almost exactly the way you would imagine it going in real life… which means, of course, it’s not satire at all.
Throughout the film, Stewart does his darndest to give us a Mad Magazine version of a civics lesson while peppering the goings-on with what one can only assume were funny ideas on paper. Byrne plays Faith as a crass Kayleigh McEnany-wannabe, and Gary comes across as a Harvard-educated Michael Scott. Neither, as you can imagine, is appealing in the slightest. And for all of Stewart’s apparent interest in making middle America feel more relevant in Irresistible, he does the exact opposite, portraying the entire town as a gaggle of slow-witted bumpkins. (Never mind the fact that there isn’t a minority to be seen anywhere.) Even a third-act twist, which was probably included to make audiences stand up and cheer, not only has the opposite effect but instantaneously cuts the movie’s message off at the knees.
There has been no shortage of times in recent months (nay, years) that a sizable nation has longed to have Stewart once again behind the anchor desk at Comedy Central, skewering the status quo and giving hope (or at least clarity) to the left-leaning masses. Anyone hoping Irresistible would be the next best thing better keep on hoping. Resist. Please.