No, “Irresistible” is not the smuggest movie ever made.
That sounds like an answer without a question, but I suspect almost every viewer will ask some version of it during this strident political satire by former “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart.
For nearly its entire length, the movie comes off as condescending, particularly about small towns. Without spoiling the ending, I think I can say it does change course, but with a twist so improbable and so late that many viewers — especially ones like me, who grew up in small towns — may already have a bad taste in their mouths about this moderately clever comedy.
You’ll note the presence of the anti-Trump rallying cry “resist” in the title, but “Irresistible” is hard on both Democrats and Republicans.
Steve Carell plays Dem operative Gary Zimmer, who spots an online video of a Wisconsin farmer named Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper), speaking on behalf of his immigrant employees at a town meeting. Zimmer decides Hastings, whom he describes as “a churchgoing Bernie Sanders with better bone density,” should run for office and he will help him win.
Rose Byrne plays a Republican wheeler-dealer who love-hates Carell and enters the fray in support of the farmer’s opponent.
Most of the comedy in “Irresistible” springs from the awfulness of the big-city operatives. Zimmer has delusions of decency and Carell never gets a handle on how shortsighted or ruthless he’s supposed to be, but Byrne is especially funny as a principle-free woman who will lie about anything without batting an eye. Byrne has most of the movie’s best — i.e., meanest — lines and she tears into them like she’s sucking on a pork chop bone.
Still, nothing Byrne says over the course of 100 minutes is even half as blisteringly funny as a run-of-the-mill 30 minutes of the dearly departed “Veep,” which has pilloried these same vain reporters, clueless candidates, amoral careerists and absurd demographic breakdowns (SMAWs are “stay-at-home, middle-aged women”).
Even if you haven’t laugh-cried through “Veep,” you’ve surely seen similar material on “The West Wing,” “The Good Fight” or “Welcome to Mooseport,” in which Gene Hackman played a former president who runs for a small-town mayorship in a comedy so unfunny that Hackman gave up acting forever.
I don’t think the people who made “Irresistible” should throw in the towel. Although its cast is shockingly white for a movie coming out in 2020, “Irresistible” is fairly funny and ambitious enough to take a stab at trying to diagnose what’s wrong with American electoral politics (neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton is a character, but Stewart seems inspired by their campaigns).
But there’s very little nuance and, somehow, Stewart hasn’t noticed that his most upright characters — the farmer and his principled daughter (Mackenzie Davis) — are also the dullest and most humorless. His answers are so obvious — Did you hear the one about how political action committees are bad for democracy? — that “Irresistible” ends up being anything but.
Rating: R for language.
Where to watch: Streaming services including Amazon and Apple TV.
©2020 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)