Review By: Jonathan W. Hickman
The phrase “all politics is local,” which is sometimes attributed to the late Massachusetts congressman Tip O’Neill, rings true in the new political satire “Irresistible.”
It’s a passable, good-natured comedic fantasy focusing on what happens when big-city political animals descend on a small-town mayoral race.
“Irresistible” is written and directed by former “The Daily Show” host, Jon Stewart. Since he put his legendary, politically charged nightly appearances on Comedy Central behind him, Stewart’s remained a potent nationally recognized voice.
In 2011, he formed a tongue-in-cheek Super PAC with Stephen Colbert called “Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow.” That hilarious exercise in real-life tomfoolery vividly demonstrated how easy it was to pump large amounts of money into the US campaign system with little or no accountability.
Building on that experience, Stewart sets “Irresistible” in the fictitious town of Deerlaken, Wisconsin. When a retired veteran named Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper) is caught in a viral video standing up for immigrants at a city council meeting, Washington D.C. Democrat political guru Gary Zimmer (Steve Carrell) takes a keen interest.
After the devastating loss of Hilary Clinton to Donald Trump, Zimmer has been searching for some way to reinvigorate the party and himself. He convinces the DNC to send him to Deerlaken and help Hastings run for mayor in the heavily Republican town.
But once Zimmer arrives in the rural community, he finds the slow pace and aw-shucks attitude immediately off-putting. And when Zimmer fails to make a connection, it takes Hastings’ attractive daughter, Diana (Mackenzie Davis), to convince her father to take up the cause. But their momentum is immediately blunted by the arrival of Zimmer’s arch-rival Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne), a Republican strategist, who is every bit Zimmer’s equal.
The race is on to win the hearts and minds of some 5,000 local voters. Naturally, the involvement of high-profile political consultants in such a small campaign attracts the interest of the national news media. And in no time, Deerlaken is the center of the political universe.
While the essential message is humorously presented, it’s not a hard-hitting exploration of the insidious influence of money in politics. And given the American heartland setting, it’s a mostly all-white affair.
The lack of diversity in the casting and characterizations is surprising given the enlightened, progressive attitude that Jon Stewart embodies.
Zimmer’s team of political technicians does include a varied collection of players. But the few lines of dialogue given these roles produce corny chuckles.
For example, “Russian Doll’s” Natasha Lyonne is a computer expert who digs into the demographics of the mostly monochromatic rural community. Lyonne, who is terrific in everything, has the thankless task of looking foolish and out of touch as her skilled campaign expert misreads the locals.
In a blink and you’ll miss him appearance, Topher Grace is another team member. While his character barely registers, it’s interesting how at 42-years-old, the “That ‘70s Show” star can still play the boyish underling.
The script does have some fun with the age difference between Carrell and Davis when it teases a potential love affair, but this bit of irony seems like a tacked-on afterthought.
What’s missing is some more development of Carrell’s Zimmer character. We know very little about the guy. And like so many characters in “Irresistible,” Zimmer comes off as a shallow caricature.
Remove the technology (cell phones, computers, social media), and this film is like something made in the 1990s or even the 1980s. It’s a quaint little picture, but not a layered or sophisticated one. And given the film’s big satirical swing, it’s unfortunate that it only clears the infield.
Stewart’s screenplay is current merely because this is an especially polarized election year. It’s been a decade since the landmark campaign finance Supreme Court decision in Citizens United. So, the topic of money in politics isn’t exactly new.
Check out the documentary “Dark Money” for more in-depth insight into the issue. Ultimately, Stewart’s approach here proves to be somewhat bland, but not without formulaic entertainment value.
“Irresistible” is fun but not especially memorable.
A RottenTomatoes.com Tomatometer-approved critic, Jonathan W. Hickman is also an entertainment lawyer, college professor, novelist, and filmmaker. He’s a member of the Atlanta Film Critics Circle, The Southeastern Film Critics Association, and the Georgia Film Critics Association. For more information about Jonathan visit: FilmProductionLaw.com or DailyFIlmFix.com