Universal Studios is currently ditching theatrical releases for premium Video On Demand starting with Trolls World Tour and then The King of Staten Island and now the political comedy Irresistible. Writer/director Jon Stewart has a lot to live up to considering he is a former Daily Show host. His personal bar for political satire is so high that it is basically impossible for Irresistible to match it. The movie still has some fun satirical bite, a bit of saccharine overtly earnest moments, a solid comedic performance by Steve Carrell and an especially fantastic foil via Rose Byrne. Also it has a twisty finale that may not make much sense but is interesting. The end twists the film tonally and is a bit didactic but Stewart’s work on Daily Show could flip tonally and be a bit didactic so it fits.
Democratic political strategist, Gary (Carrell), is trying to get his fellow liberal Washington Democrats out of a rut after their demoralizing loss in the 2016 general election. He is shown a video of a rural farmer and former marine, Jack (Chris Cooper), standing up for underprivileged individuals, which inspires Gary to travel to Jack’s small town to convince him to run for Mayor as a Democrat. Gary hopes this will turn rural heartland voters back to the Democrats which catches the attention of Gary’s Republican political strategist rival, Faith Brewster (Byrne), who throws her clout behind the long standing Republican Mayor. Things continue to escalate on both sides with more money being thrown at each candidate as Jack and his daughter Diana (Mackenzie Davis) are caught in the middle of the craziness.
Carrell plays Gary not quite as loud as Michael Scott from The Office or as subdued as his dramatic roles. Still, the funniest Carrell is often the stupidest Carrell and even though he is playing a political strategist he still allows Gary to be amusingly myopic. He is often overbearing about minutiae, like when Jack is announcing his candidacy for mayor and Gary stars obsessing about the placement and colours of cows in the background. Still, the best stuff Carrell does, and indeed the best stuff in the movie, is his trading of zingers with Faith.
As the brutally cold hearted Republican strategist, Byrne is absolutely fantastic as Faith. She lies rather casually about everything, claiming she comes from this small town which frustrates Gary more. She has some great zingers, proclaiming that this potential Democratic saviour that Gary has found, “…isn’t the Last Jedi and even if he was I’ll still crush him because it’s what I do,” with Gary pointing out that in the analogy she’s Darth Vader. They have a great hate/hate relationship and their interactions are always entertaining. Stewart doesn’t spare ire for either of the characters as the movie opens with a fantasy scene of both the Republican and Democratic strategist actually telling the truth that they are employed to lie. The Republican strategist is painted more as the over-the-top villain with all the best lines but the Democratic strategist idealism is eventually portrayed as vote-grabbing cynicism.
As the rural farmer and ex-marine, Cooper does his best as a salt of the Earth guy who is caught up in political upheaval. When he makes a speech to liberal New York donors he calls them out on their own lies, which elates Gary because the liberals eat it up and donate even more cash. Mackenzie as the daughter has an amusing introduction but is basically hanging about for exposition after that until the finale.
The way both Cooper and Mackenzie play their characters as rural dummies are a big part of how effectively the ending lands. The movie spends most of the film painting these people as clueless as the finale upends several notions. The twist that really isn’t all that plausible but Stewart is making a point about chaotic overspending that goes into modern campaigning. It also seems a bit extreme which somewhat clashes with the realistic tone that the movie is trying to strike. The movie often bounces between realism and outsized Doctor Strangelove style parody. There’s a moment when Gary and Jack meet up with a big money Democratic donor who is powered by a robotic exoskeleton and talks via a computer; it’s an absolutely insane sci-fi moment that stands out because it’s so different from the rest of the movie. Also the parody political ads are crazy, like the one for Jack that just has him shooting a machine gun into the water for no reason, or the attack ad on Jack that is superimposed with creepy looking clowns. There is also few choice scenes that rip on Fox and CNN for being hollering jackasses who only cause more trouble.
Irresistible is making a point about how political discourse has devolved into nonsense and chicanery fueled by money however Stewart doesn’t definitively announce that until the end. Most of the time Irresistible is a bit directionless and some of the gags aren’t exactly funny, however Carrell and Byrne make their characters really dynamic. Still, it’s fun to see a political satire that spews anger at the broken political process. It’s not as hilarious or insightful as Stewart has been in the past but it has some moments of greatness.
Director: Jon Stewart
Starring: Steve Carell, Rose Byrne and Chris Cooper.