There’s a moment right at the end of satirist Jon Stewart’s new film Irresistible when it was teetering between a passable movie and a bad movie.
But then, as the credits start to roll, Stewart adds a mid-credits sequence. No, it’s not a Marvel-style teaser – thankfully, there will be no sequel.
Instead, it’s a piece-to-camera of someone who used to work for the governing body who oversees American elections, and he starts to explain why the political system is so cooked. Which, by the way, is actually what Irresistible is about.
The addition of this mid-credits scene is revealing – it means even Stewart didn’t think his movie was strong enough without needing a talking head to ram home his point during the credits.
So, what did we just spend 100 minutes watching?
Timed to coincide with the election circus unfolding in the US, Stewart is striving for political commentary in this film starring Steve Carell, Rose Byrne, Chris Cooper and Mackenzie Davis.
And while it certainly grazes commentary, it’s far too pleased with its own twist and ends up being less effective than a sketch on Stewart’s former stomping ground, The Daily Show.
Gary Zimmer (Carell) is a campaign strategist, working to have Democratic candidates elected across America, at different levels. After the presidential loss of 2016, he’s looking for a way to regalvanise the party and connect it to those voters who turned away.
Gary thinks he’s found the saviour in Colonel Jack Hastings (Cooper) when he sees a video of the farmer speaking passionately about immigration and empathy at a council meeting in his small Wisconsin town.
Gary convinces Jack to run for mayor against the Republican incumbent, frothing at the thought of this new type of progressive candidate, one that will appeal to the “heartland”.
His presence in Deerlaken attracts the attention of his opposite number, Republican strategist Faith Brewster (Byrne). Between the two of them, the town and its mayoral race is hijacked by special interests on a national level, and millions of dollars comes flowing in to fund the campaigns.
On almost every level, Irresistible is a process story in that it takes pains to explain how something works.
In this case, it’s using a small mayoral race to illustrate all the different, farcical aspects of winning an American election, from data strategists who can pinpoint clusters of unmarried women who may be sympathetic to pamphlets about reproductive rights to how unregulated PAC money is raised and funnelled.
These are all compelling issues, but Stewart wraps it up in a story that can’t seem to make up its mind about the characters through which it’s telling that story – well, at least for about 90 per cent of the time.
That inconsistency extends to Irresistible’s wildly varied tone, at times a straight drama but often punctuated with moments of satire and even broad comedy. If the transitions weren’t so clunky it might’ve worked.
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And then there’s Gary. At one end it portrays him as a DC suit who flies into Wisconsin on his private jet, catered with his choice of a caprese salad and switches off “Rhinestone Cowboy” to listen to public radio NPR. You couldn’t jam in more “coastal elite” cliches if you tried.
But then he’s also positioned as the hero with whom we’re supposed to identify, especially in opposition to Byrnes’ Faith whose lax relationship with facts evokes a certain president – “Gah, she said it and now it’s true!”.
The one character who’s supposed to function as the moral centre – Davis’ Diana – is underwritten and underserviced.
For all that, Stewart may have gotten away with it because Irresistible is compelling and generally entertaining. But then he commits the same sin he’s just spent his film condemning – underestimating people.
If Gary is wrong to equate “small town” with “small minds” then Stewart should’ve given his audience more credit in understanding the point of his story without a mid-credits lecture.
Because if people didn’t get it, it’s because Irresistible tries so hard to be clever it loses itself somewhere in its own navel. Not because the audience is dumb.
Irresistible is in cinemas now (excluding Victoria)
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