2020, R, 101 min. Directed by Jon Stewart. Starring Steve Carell, Chris Cooper, Rose Byrne, Mackenzie Davis, Natasha Lyonne, Topher Grace, Will Sasso.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., June 26, 2020
You may want to sit down for a moment. Jon Stewart has something to tell you.
Are you ready?
Money is a problem in American politics.
I know, right? This is shocking news for everyone.
OK, so we've got to the core of massive misfire Irresistible, the former The Daily Show host's tin-eared take on election year, and so you never need to see it or speak of it again.
"Was that a Carville impression?" Joe Scarborough asks Clinton political consultant Gary Zimmer (Carrel), foreshadowing the inevitable sexual tension between the Democratic campaign pro and Republican operative Faith Brewster (Byrne). Yes, it's 2020, and Jon Stewart thinks there's still humor to be found in reminding us that James Carville (D) is married to Mary Matalin (R). Brewster was part of the Trump team that pummeled Zimmer's staf, and he's looking for a degree of redemption. So he heads to "Rural America, Heartland USA" (it literally says that on a card) to convince farmer and former colonel Jack Hastings (Cooper) to run for mayor of the tiny town of Deerlaken. Apparently, this will set the Democrats back on the path to greatness. Or just even the score. Or something.
It's like Stewart was convinced that we were all waiting for him to weigh in with his opinion about where politics is right now, to revamp his version of Americana as "looks conservative, sounds progressive," which is how Zimmer describes Hasting. It's rare to see a film misfire so spectacularly out of the gate with the same "both sides"isms that Stewart helped propagate as badly as anyone in the last decade (remember the car crash sentimentality of his "We're all Americans" Rally to Restore Sanity/Fear back in 2010? Right before the Tea Party swept through American politics?). But the reality is that he is Zimmer - woefully unaware of the damage he is causing to the body politic.
Politics aside, if you're looking for a comedic bottom here, it's when Bill Irwin turns up, buried under prosthetics as a technology billionaire in a mechanical suit. At least it lets Andy Serkis off the hook for "worst broad comedy cameo in a misguided political comedy" for his low-rent Rupert Murdoch shtick in Long Shot. Two minutes of sheer misery that just highlights that Stewart never finds any even tone.
Worse, he works from a ridiculously facile position, spouted from Zimmer's mouth: "Democrats are getting our asses kicked because guys like me don't know how to talk to guys like you." It doesn't help that all the Deerlaken locals are stereotyped yokels, all charming simpletons with good hearts. It's the same Mister Smith Goes to Washington garbage that we've endured for decades. Guess what? There is no Mister Smith, and buying into that myth was what landed us with Bill Clinton, and George Bush, and Donald Trump. The cult of anti-intellectualism, that the outsider is the cure to everything, is toxic, dangerous nonsense, and the fact it's being promoted by Zimmer - possibly the stupidest character on-screen this year - doesn't make it any less dull. How stupid? In one of the most moronic gags of the year, Zimmer is shocked that a former colonel speaks French. Look at this smug consultant, Stewart says, but his joke relies on Zimmer being insufferably dumb. Any inevitable moral coming out of this is mangled by the fact that film is soul-crushingly unwatchable, and misguidedly convinced of its own witty perspicacity.
How can Stewart think the problem with politics at the moment is money, and not racism, or catastrophic incompetence at the highest level? Goddammit, why not go after the insidious connection between religion and politics? Want to be relevant about money and politics? Go after the prosperity gospel, not whether campaigns spend a lot.
It's not just that this is poorly timed: There would never be any good time for this level of monstrous clumsiness and obviousness (Zimmer listens to Fresh Air! Hastings drives around listening to Glen Campbell! How will they ever get along?). Nothing about this rings true, down to the idea that Zimmer - as a seasoned campaign pro working on low to no budget - would be surprised about staying in a two-star hotel over a bar in a flyover state. By the time Hastings' daughter (Davis) delivers the final homily (a straight format lift from Stewart's old Daily Show opening monologues) it's pretty clear that Irresistible is exactly what it accuses everyone else of being - haplessly, groundlessly condescending.