Q&A: Jon Stewart is still fighting for the middle ground

Steve Carell (right) and Rose Byrne appear in “Irresistible.”

Editor’s note: With movie theaters limited because of the coronavirus pandemic, Micheal Compton’s reviews will focus on films available for streaming or on demand.

Jon Stewart has shown a keen eye for politics from his time on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” so the thought of Stewart tackling politics again as writer and director of the new film “Irresistible” seemed promising on paper.

Unfortunately, the film doesn’t live up to that promise. It’s a bland comedy that lacks bite because it plays everything way too safe and conventional.

Stewart’s “Daily Show” cohort Steve Carell stars as Gary Zimmer, a Democratic Party strategist looking to find a candidate who can ignite some excitement among the base.

After seeing a viral video of a town meeting in Wisconsin where a veteran named Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper) makes an impassioned speech to local officials about the rights of undocumented workers, Gary gets the idea that this man should be the new face of the Democratic Party.

Gary heads to Wisconsin and convinces Jack to run for mayor, agreeing to serve as Jack’s campaign manager. The campaign takes off and draws national attention, which leads to Gary’s Republican rival Faith (Rose Byrne) arriving to turn this local race into a full-blown battle in the national spotlight.

While “Irresistible” is billed as political satire, most of the time it is more focused on the rather tired formula of the big-city elitist learning about life in a small town with Gary facing first-world problems like no Wi-Fi and insufficient boarding options.

It is not until Byrne’s character arrives that Stewart’s script finally starts to say something about the current state of politics – with the rise of special interests and dark money. Even with some topics ripe for Stewart’s sharp voice, “Irresistible” never gets the bite you would expect. We get it, politics is messy and muddled up, but that message comes in a movie that is itself messy and muddled up – never sure how hard hitting it truly wants to be.

To its credit, the cast does the best it can with the mundane material, especially Cooper – whose every man is the most relatable thing about the film but is severely underutilized. Instead, “Irresistible” wants to focus more on Carell – first as a fish out of water before shifting to his rivalry with Faith. It’s as if Stewart has something to say but doesn’t want to rock the boat, electing to make something safe and down the middle that winds up being mediocre and forgettable.

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