Jon Stewart’s new political satire, “Irresistible,” is an odd duck. It opens with tidbits from the 2016 presidential election results, showing the reaction of the top Democratic strategist named Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell) and his Republican counterpart, Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne).
Both of them lie to the press about the election results. And it will presumably be reported. And you wonder whether this will be about the fallout after Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump.
In short, it isn’t. Instead, it looks like it may turn into “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” That’s because Zimmer, in the days after the election, sees a video of a former Marine colonel, Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper), who stands up at town hall meeting in Wisconsin and opposes the City Council’s plan to financially punish local undocumented workers with some onerous requirements. The colonel makes an appeal to the American idea of helping your neighbors and being kind in such a way that would make Jimmy Stewart proud.
Zimmer thinks the colonel might just be a Democratic candidate in the making — someone who would appeal to rural America and bring in badly needed votes for future campaigns. So Zimmer heads to the small town of Deerlaken, Wis., to try to persuade the colonel to run for mayor — and possibly more if successful.
As it turns out, Deerlaken has been hit hard financially, like so many other rural towns in the Upper Midwest. The local military base has closed, and two-thirds of the town’s 15,000 residents have left.
And the colonel, who’s a farmer, seems rather reluctant to Zimmer’s overtures. But the colonel finally relents — as long as Zimmer promises to run the campaign.
To make a long story short, “Mr. Smith” gets mixed up in a bruising campaign for mayor after Brewster, the fiery Republican strategist who is Zimmer’s nemesis, shows up in Deerlaken to aid the colonel’s political rival.
Political types may know that this setup has similarities to the 2017 special Georgia election to fill a vacant congressional seat. In that case, a first-time Democratic candidate, Jon Ossoff, became an unlikely contender in a historically Republican district. And the race between Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel became the most expensive in House history, with about $55 million spent.
And that’s what “Irresistible” turns out to be — a satirical look at the financial machinations that our political system revolves around — the fundraising, the Manhattan parties, the posers and special interests.
The film, which started streaming on various websites and platforms on June 26, has been hammered on Rotten Tomatoes, the aggregation site for movie reviews. And there’s good reason for that. The Faith Brewster character is a rather sexist stereotype of a Fox News anchor. And some of the jokes simply fall flat.
But there are some laugh-out-loud moments, too, like when Zimmer tries to shoot a campaign commercial of the colonel on the farm and the cows are making too much noise. “Quiet the cows, please!” Zimmer screams at his assistants.
And that’s another knock on the film: Zimmer is basically an asshole who treats most of the people around him with disdain and condescension.
The colonel’s daughter, Diana (Mackenzie Davis), points this character flaw out to Zimmer more than one time. And you get the queasy feeling that she might turn out to be able to save Zimmer from himself.
But once again, the movie takes a big turn — and Stewart basically pulls the rug out from under the audience in the final minutes.
As noted, “Irresistible” is an odd duck, coming out during a pandemic and a racial reckoning in America. There’s only one Black person in Deerlaken, we discover. And when Stewart was writing the screenplay a couple of years ago, that might have passed as dry wit. But today, it’s just sort of weird.
Starring Steve Carell, Rose Byrne, Chris Cooper, Mackenzie Davis
Running time: 101 minutes