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Electile dysfunction – ‘Irresistible’

June 27, 2020
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Anyone with eyes and ears is aware that we’re currently living in an extremely polarized time. That polarization makes it both a great time and a tough time to make a political comedy. On the one hand, the landscape is littered with targets for satirization. On the other hand, it’s all just so f---ing bleak out there.

Into this dichotomy drops “Irresistible.” Currently available via VOD services, the film is written and directed by Jon Stewart. It tells the tale of what happens when a small-town mayoral race captures the attention of high-level political operatives on both sides of the partisan divide. These operatives swoop in and turn this minor municipal election into a big-money campaign. It’s ostensibly an ideological fight, but it soon becomes clear that there’s far more to it than that.

Stewart’s body of work from “The Daily Show” on up would seem to make him the ideal candidate (no pun intended) to make a film like this. And it’s a dynamite cast, led by Steve Carell, Chris Cooper and Rose Byrne. The talent is here, for sure.

So why isn’t this movie better?

Not that it’s bad, per se. It has its moments. It just feels like it is trying to be all things to all people, which is ironic considering its subject matter. It never commits to a tone, resulting in an overall feeling of meh-ness that undercuts whatever satiric impact it might have made. Political commentary? Sly satire? Underdog tale? “Irresistible” is all of these – and hence none of them.

Gary Zimmer is a Democratic political strategist left reeling by the results of the 2016 election, unsure of the direction in which he wants to go. His disillusionment is halted, however, when one of his aides shows him a viral video in which a man in a small Wisconsin town vehemently voices a series of progressive viewpoints. Gary sees this man – retired Marine Colonel Jack Hastings (Cooper) – as a way to start the process of reclaiming rural voters for the Democrats.

And so, Gary makes his way to Deerlaken, Wisconsin and Colonel Jack’s farm, all to make a simple pitch – run for mayor. With some reluctance – and some encouragement from his daughter Diana (Mackenzie Davis, “The Turning”) – the Colonel agrees to run, so long as Gary personally handles his campaign.

Colonel Jack is a dream Democratic candidate – a career military man who retired to be a farmer, but with progressive social ideas. The system being what it is, it’s no surprise that before long, the Republican side has sent in an elite strategist of their own in Faith Brewster (a delightfully coarse Byrne) to run the re-election campaign of the incumbent Mayor Braun (Brent Sexton, TV’s “God Friended Me”).

What follows is a rapidly escalating arms race of sorts, with both sides pumping money and resources into the race in an effort to push their chosen candidate to victory – largely at the expense of the message. In a microcosm of the problems that led them here in the first place, the campaign becomes solely about winning, rather than the positive impact the winner might have on the town.

As for the truth behind the process, well – you’ll have to wait until Election Day.

“Irresistible” should have worked. It had the pieces on both sides of the camera. But for whatever reason, there was no clear vision for how those pieces should fit together, leaving us with a film that bears little resemblance to the picture on the puzzle box. It is tonally inconsistent and narratively uneven and occasionally smug, a movie that doesn’t seem to have a firm grasp on how to share the messaging it seeks to convey, resulting in a message that never gets much beyond “current system bad.” Which, OK, but … it’s not enough.

I’ll concede that I may have allowed my expectations to be overly elevated by Stewart’s heavy involvement, which is probably unfair when you consider his lack of cinematic experience – he’s only got one other feature writer/director credit to his name (2014’s “Rosewater”). He’s an iconic figure in the political/entertainment overlap, but that’s no guarantee that he can make a great movie.

And “Irresistible” is not great. It’s OK, and if you squint you can see the outline of a great movie, but this iteration fails to fully measure up to the expectations – fair or otherwise – placed upon it. The jokes rarely delve any deeper than surface level, while the commentary feels very basic as well. There’s just no edge to this film; rather, it’s a vaguely generic and kind of bland paean to the notion of cleaning up the process that never offers any real thoughts about how to do so.

Carell is a little bit of a letdown here. There was a lot of potential in a character like Gary Zimmer, but Carell seems content – much like the movie – to skim along the surface. It’s not a bad performance, per se, but there’s no spark to it. It mostly coasts on tropes and clichés. Byrne, on the other hand, at least brings a crackling energy to her portrayal of the actively terrible Faith. She is foul-mouthed and weird and aggressive, bringing a sense of the dynamic that is duly missed when she’s not onscreen.

Cooper brings his weaponized crustiness to the table, but the film seems unsure of just how best to use him, so he gets lost in the shuffle a bit. Davis is charming, but there’s a square peg quality to her character that’s tough to shake – she just seems to be in a slightly different movie than the rest. There are some other solid supporting turns; Topher Grace and Natasha Lyonne have some nice moments as campaign operatives and the assemblage of earnest small-town Wisconsin oddballs is quite good.

The biggest problem with “Irresistible” is its thematic and tonal muddiness; another major irony of this film is that a story supposedly about hardline partisan division is rendered with a churning centrism. It’s neither as smart nor as funny as it could (and should) have been, leaving us with a movie that is all the more disappointing for its squandered potential.

All in all, a real cam-pain in the ball...ot box.

[2 out of 5]

Last modified on Saturday, 27 June 2020 09:12

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