“Irresistible” was written and directed by Jon Stewart? The Jon Stewart who popularized the political news satire format that dominates TV today? The same Jon Stewart who won so many Emmys, they should have called them Jonnys? Are we sure this lame movie wasn’t made by Martha Stewart’s nephew?
Nope. Stewart is 100 percent the man who bungled this election comedy that boasts not a single satisfying joke, all the while priding itself on being ripped from 4-year-old headlines.
Because Stewart knows exactly what beleaguered Americans need right now, he begins his film with a rehash of the 2016 presidential race. What fun. We then meet Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell), a cocky Democratic strategist from Hillary Clinton’s campaign who dropped off the face of the earth after she lost.
Down-and-out, Gary then stumbles on a viral video of a man named Col. Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper) at a community meeting fighting for the values of little Deerlaken, Wisconsin. Impressed with Jack’s verve, he decides to help the political neophyte become the town’s first Democratic mayor in years.
Gary’s rival from the Trump campaign is a young, well-dressed blond woman who is likely modeled after Hope Hicks. I say that because she is thuddingly named Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne). Hope, er, Faith gets the Republican National Committee involved, and the race becomes a national cause célèbre.
Stewart’s point with this trifle is that American elections are caught in the grip of big-pocketed donors and coastal media-ratings grabs. Quelle surprise. That he is using a Hallmark Channel-earnest, small-town, feel-good yarn to drive his thesis home, however, makes no sense. It’s a movie constantly at odds with itself.
Worse, it’s as funny as a political science class.
Oh, there are plenty of jokes, but Stewart unexpectedly doesn’t know how to set up a visual gag. A judgmental old lady named Dot popping up at random times doesn’t get laughs, and one failed bit, in which Gary mocks his local team’s naiveté, is edited so erratically that you’ll think your internet is acting up.
Speaking of wide-eyed Midwesterners, Stewart also criticizes the political narrative of the gap in understanding between coastal elites and flyover country. He doesn’t buy the widely accepted rationale for Donald Trump’s victory that became a cottage industry with books such as “Hillbilly Elegy” and “White Trash.” So why, then, does Stewart fall prey to that with which he so disagrees? In one campaign office scene, Gary realizes there is no Wi-Fi, only dial-up, and goes berserk. Um, they have Wi-Fi in Wisconsin, Jon. It’s not Siberia, where they also probably have Wi-Fi.
Gary being shocked to discover that the local bakery, run by the nicest woman in the world, has wonderful coffee cake is as sophisticated a country-mouse-city-mouse observation as anything in “Sweet Home Alabama” or “Welcome to Mooseport.”
Stewart, to his credit, does go after both sides equally. At a fund-raising event in New York, the snooty, self-absorbed attendees loudly criticize Trump, and two women with “Stay Woke” T-shirts blather on about farm-to-table cooking. But those are easy targets.
Carell does his nice-guy act that, while effective, isn’t as enjoyable as when he’s being a jerk in “Evan Almighty” or “Battle of the Sexes.” We get glimpses of his edge here, but Stewart hasn’t written him a coherent character.
Carell is surrounded by other comedic talents who are banned from having fun. Natasha Lyonne and Topher Grace play boring campaign staffers, and Byrne nearly makes something special out of Faith, even though she’s stuck with a one-note role.
If “Irresistible” is any indication, the “Daily Show” host should not start making yearly movies.
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