[su_dropcap size=”5″]P[/su_dropcap]olitical movies generally break one of two ways: You either get the thermonuclear satire of a Paddy Chayefsky, or Frank Capra’s lovey-eyed optimism. Given that Irresistible was written and directed by Jon Stewart, my appetite for a satirical bloodbath of Klingon proportions grew with every trailer. After all, I have fond memories of Stewart appearing on CNN’s Crossfire and savaging its panelists for socio-political negligence. Few things are more invigorating than watching a histrionic, bow-tied cartoon character like Tucker Carlson get his comeuppance, and I had hoped that this movie would be another verse of that same song.
Unfortunately, Irresistible eschews both of those options and ends up driving on the median for 100 minutes. Tantalizing snippets of what this movie could’ve been sneak into the storyline. Its very essence defines Capraesque: Gary Zimmer (Steve Carrell) is a cynical, highly manscaped political strategist, still stung by Hillary’s defeat four years ago. He spots a viral video featuring Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper), a retired Marine Colonel who delivers a stirring speech at his local town council meeting. Zimmer believes that Hastings, with his Marlboro Man demeanor and genuine empathy, might just be the future of the Democratic Party.
Zimmer descends on Deerlaken, a tiny Wisconsin town chocked with eccentrics straight outta Northern Exposure. He organizes a push to elect Hastings as the new mayor. This draws the attention of Faith (Rose Byrne), Zimmer’s ruthless Republican counterpart. Soon, the media descends, thus granting this mayoral contest the credibility of a full-on carnival. Diana (Mackenzie Davis), the Colonel’s protective daughter, greets this influx with a blend of excitement and trepidation.
From here, Stewart fans the humor out in all directions. Carrell and Byrne go blue, swapping raunchy innuendos and putdowns that feel lifted from a Judd Apatow movie. These NSFW quips sit awkwardly next to the homespun sweetness of the small town scenes. (Gosh darn it, wouldn’t ya know? The lady at the bakery knows just how ya like yer muffins?!) Occasionally, Stewart goes all the way to deep left field, such as when we meet the lumbering billionaire donor whose brain has been replaced with what sounds like an old Speak’n’Spell. All told, Irresistible delivers scattered laughs, but nothing hangs together very well.
Still, the all-star cast tries real damn hard. Nobody plays smug obliviousness better than Carrell, but he also injects just enough sweetness and savvy to keep this from being Michael Scott Goes to Washington. He and Byrne are straight fire together, enough that it makes you want these characters to pop up in a narrative with a little more sauce. Cooper gives his character a needed dose of grounded intelligence, and Davis makes the most of her underwritten part.
Irresistible ends up being decent fun, but I was hoping for so much more. Our society suffers from a profound lapse in leadership, one that manifests itself in horrific ways: Peaceful protestors get gassed and bashed for the sake of a cheap photo opportunity in front of a church. A plague ravages the globe, while our leader mawkishly vacillates, or worse, actively spreads the disease with indoor rallies. In his finest moments, Stewart deploys scathing sarcasm to modulate his frustration, and demonstrate how none of this stuff is actually funny. As our country wanders in a howling spiritual desert, we need the cooling nourishment of truth. Irresistible needed to be irrepressible, but it falls far short.
102 min. R.