(2020) (Steve Carell, Chris Cooper) (R)
- QUICK TAKE:
- Comedy: A political strategist tries to jump-start his career by having a retired Marine colonel run for mayor in a small Wisconsin town.
Having been humiliated in the 2016 Presidential campaign, Democratic consultant Gary Zimmer (STEVE CARELL) is looking to jump-start his career back into action and thinks he's found just the man to do that. He's Jack Hastings (CHRIS COOPER), a retired and widowed Marine colonel who's recently been seen online taking on the town council of Deerlaken, Wisconsin. His beef with them is over their desire to restrict the rights of undocumented workers who helped the town in the good days before the local military base closed.
Realizing the party needs to expand its base from the usual suspects, Gary sees the perfect "new" Democrat in Jack and shows up in the town in hopes of convincing him to take on the Republican incumbent, Mayor Braun (BRENT SEXTON), in the upcoming election. Despite or perhaps because of their small-town friendliness, Gary looks down on the locals but tries -- unsuccessfully -- to fit in, believing he can manipulate them into helping propel Jack to victory, including using his 28-year-old daughter, Diana (MACKENZIE DAVIS).
But Gary's initially successful work draws the attention of his long-time political rival, Faith Brewster (ROSE BYRNE), who shows up to put her campaign might behind Mayor Braun. From that point on, and as each ups their game and super PAC money starts flowing into the town, it's uncertain whose political maneuvering will ultimately prove successful.
- OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Back in the early to mid-1980s, I was a psychology major at William & Mary and took classes (most of them quite small in terms of student count) with one Jon Leibowitz. We weren't friends, but the remarkable thing about him was that he was, well, unremarkable, albeit in classroom settings that didn't exactly scream out for public displays of wit and humor.
After graduation, he held down various odd jobs before emerging as a stand-up comedian and then the host of some TV shows few watched, while I landed a job with the U.S. Senate doing TV production work that required watching and interacting with many politicians on both sides of the aisle.
When Jon -- now using the last name Stewart -- took over the hosting duties of "The Daily Show" in 1999 -- two years after I started a new career reviewing movies -- I understood his growing frustration with certain politicians and various aspects of the political world -- having viewed them myself firsthand -- and enjoyed him calling out all of that in humorous ways.
Thus, when I heard he was writing and directing a comedy about the corruption of politics via big-money -- something he touched on and skewered many a time on his show -- I figured that "Irresistible" would be, well, irresistible to someone like me, not to mention many others who enjoyed his brand of political humor for a decade and a half.
While there are some laughs to be had and obvious points to be made, this 100-minute offering feels more like a less seasoned satirist filmmaker taking some of Stewart's old material and trying to turn it into a movie, only to realize that's harder than it looks, than a fresh, hard-hitting or side-splittingly funny examination of such affairs.
Granted, it's usually far easier to write a five or so minute monologue comedy bit about a certain political topic than a feature-length film with a fleshed-out storyline and multiple speaking parts and that shows here.
Following the opening credits sequence that's scored to Bob Seger's "Still The Same" song and features images of past real presidential candidates trying to fit in with the common folk over the decades, we meet Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell), a high-end, national-level political consultant who suffered defeat and humiliation in certain circles by not managing to help Hilary Clinton win the 2016 Presidential election, much to the delight of his Republican strategist adversary, Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne).
He wants back in the game and, more importantly, to win again, and thinks his opportunity lies in a certain retired Marine colonel who's been seen on video standing up to his local town council defending the rights of undocumented workers. Smelling blood -- or, more accurately, the chance to create a new kind of democratic candidate in America's heartland and thus prove his own mettle -- he jets off to the fictional town of Deerlaken, Wisconsin to meet his political makeover target, Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper).
What follows is a variation of the fish out of water tale where our protagonist balks at most everything related to the town -- from the uber-friendly people who all know his name before he walks in the door to the lack of high-end trappings he's used to living with and more -- and hates that he has to try to fit in as an "average Joe" in order to win over them including, most importantly, Jack. He does, without much effort -- which is explained later on -- and proceeds to dazzle them with his political campaign prowess.
But that draws the attention of Faith who shows up intending to back the Republican incumbent, thus setting off a campaign nuclear arms race where ever bigger tactics and eventually outsider money starts pouring into the town to affect the election. Some of that has amusing results, namely the names of the political action committees behind certain TV ads, but such low-hanging fruit doesn't always deliver the tastiest of results from a comedy standpoint.
It certainly doesn't help that Carell's character isn't likable. While he's played similar style parts in the past -- most notably Michael Scott on the TV show "The Office'' -- more often than not some redeeming part or parts of such characters made you enjoy them and the actor's performance. Here, despite him getting his comeuppance, the character is simply too abrasive to enjoy spending time with. And what's supposed to be high comedy-based sexual tension between his and Byrne's character rarely gets above medium heat in that regard or laughs for that matter (which also holds true for his interactions with Jack's 28-year-old daughter played by Mackenzie Davis).
I didn't dislike the movie. It's just that other political satires have handled similar material in far more entertaining and winning ways. And with high expectations created by Stewart's long run of successfully mining humor from and bringing attention to political wrongdoing and other ethically questionable behavior, I figured "Irresistible" would be so much better than it ultimately is. Alas, and just like my classmate was back in the day, it's fairly unremarkable. It rates as a 5 out of 10.
Reviewed June 19, 2020 / Posted June 26, 2020
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