The following review contains spoilers for “Irresistible.”
“Irresistible” begins with a series of photos featuring the campaigns and presidencies of some of the biggest figures in recent American politics. There’s Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Donald Trump, and nestled in between the politicians and their entourages are Steve Carell and Rose Byrne, the two stars of comedian Jon Stewart’s debut film.
While the montage is meant to establish the illustrious political careers of the characters as campaign managers – and it does so effectively – it actually works to date the movie itself.
“Irresistible” is out of place in 2020. In a time when politics are more divided than ever, it’s hard to imagine a comedy revolving around an election that includes any semblance of civility. Instead, it would feel much more at home in the days of those photos, arriving in the late-Bush early-Obama era when it might actually feel relevant.
With the Democratic Party struggling to connect with rural voters in America’s heartland, strategist Gary Zimmer (Carell) thinks he’s found an answer in the form of a YouTube sensation. Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper) is a retired veteran who’s settled down on a farm in a small town in Wisconsin. After a video of Hastings challenging the lack of principles of the town’s Republican mayor goes viral, Zimmer and his crew of strategists descend upon the swing state in hopes of convincing the former Marine to challenge as a Democrat.
But once Hastings agrees, the campaign’s troubles are only just beginning. Enter Faith Brewster (Byrne), Zimmer’s MAGA-loving alter-ego sent by the Republican National Committee to back the incumbent Mayor Braun (Brent Sexton). Soon enough, the race is national news and Zimmer and Braun are in the midst of an all-out political circus with boatloads of cash flowing into the small town.
Here’s where Stewart attempts to pull the rug out from under audiences with a late-stage twist exploiting a little-known political loophole. Legislative jargon aside, the reveal is that it was all a set up. The viral video of Hastings was staged in order to draw attention – and cash – to the small town where there never was any conflict. As a result, the country folk pull a fast one on the D.C. elite and pocket all of the fundraising dollars from both parties in order to rebuild their struggling town.
While it’s intriguing in concept, and Stewart explores the realities of the entirely legal gimmick in the credits, the act itself feels disingenuous to the film. After nearly 100 minutes of storytelling, the last-minute revelation flips everything on its head with little time left for any sort of reasoning or resolution. Ultimately, it feels like a long episode of “Punk’d” where Stewart’s only objective was to trick viewers into falling victim to a legal political scam.
Sure, it’s a shocking realization that something like that can happen in real life, but it’s a topic that’s better suited for an op-ed column than a movie.
That’s not the film’s only issue, though. In a quest to achieve the perfect balance of bothsidesism, Stewart overdoes the political stereotyping on both sides. You better believe Faith is an in-your-face, politically incorrect Trump supporter, while Gary is such a snowflake he can barely open a twist-off beer bottle on his own. On top of the two leads, the charming, midwestern hospitality of everyone in Wisconsin is far too overplayed, too. The result is a form of satire that misses its mark and is anything but subtle.
For a political comedy written by one of late night’s sharpest minds and featuring two stars as charismatic as Carell and Byrne, the finished product is seriously underwhelming. For the most part, there are no real laugh-out-loud moments, and even the few that garner a chuckle have already been revealed in the trailer.
It’s clear throughout the film that Carell’s Zimmer is out of touch and struggling to adapt to the modern political system. After “Irresistible,” Stewart might be, too.
“Irresistible” is available to rent on home streaming platforms June 26.
Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Raleigh, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for CLTure.org.