Just about everything that Jon Stewart wants to say in his new movie Irresistible shows up in the movie’s epilogue, which consists of real people talking about how big money has corrupted American democracy.
Prior to that, you’ll find a satire that dulls its edge with unexpected timidity and a big dose of conventional comedy.
Here's the story: Steve Carell plays Gary Zimmer, a hotshot political operative whose attention perks up when an aide informs him that a rural town in Wisconsin can be flipped to the Democratic side of the ledger. Why? Because a straight-talking farmer and former Marine (Chris Cooper) addressed the town’s city council with a speech so sincere it might have made Gary Cooper blush. He's exactly the kind of person who might lure wary independents to the Dems.
The plan: Persuade Cooper’s character to run for mayor, upset the political balance, and prove that a Democrat can capture the hearts of middle-Americans.
Gary heads for the town of Deerlarken, Wisc., where he’s a fish-out-of-water, a sophisticate who finds himself at a remove from Washington’s “civilized” ways: high-speed internet connections, fancy restaurants, and room service.
Of course, things can’t go smoothly or there’s no movie. Enter Rose Byrne's Faith Brewster, the GOP's answer to Gary. Savvy and ruthless, Faith represents powerful interests that don’t want to see the town turn Blue.
Carell and Byrne banter as they create some chemistry, the attraction of opposites who can’t resist trying to outdo each other when it comes to political maneuvering. The movie also hints at a possible relationship between Gary and Jack's grown daughter (Mackenzie Davis).
In one of the more predictable scenes, Gary takes Jack to New York City to meet a group of liberal elitists with whom he has nothing in common. He’s supposed to ask for money to finance a campaign they’ve been told might be the beginning of a national transformation. Of course, they can't get enough of Jack's homespun honesty.
All of this builds toward a twist that reveals Stewart’s real purpose, a kind of backhanded celebration of all-American wisdom that raises the question: If politics is a cynical game, why can’t more people play?
Look, I laughed some, I enjoyed watching the cast — particularly the comically gifted Byrne — and I never tuned the movie out. But in the end, I felt letdown.
In a moment of political volatility, I expected a comedy with a little more grit in its craw — not one that ends with a lecture, even one that's on-point about desperately need campaign-finance reform. Where’s the anger? Where’s the outrage? Where’s the feeling that things are so out-of-control that no fix may be possible? Where’s the recognition that even if we had campaign finance reform, there would still be voter suppression and a host of other seemingly intractable problems?
Enough. I don’t want to write a total slam, but it's difficult to see Irresistible as too much more than a movie of squandered promise.