No doubt more than a few people were surprised by “Rosewater,” the 2014 directorial debut by comic genius Jon Stewart, former host of “The Daily Show.” The movie, for which Stewart also wrote the screenplay, was extremely serious and intense, based on the true story of a journalist, suspected of being a spy, who is detained and interrogated in Iran. With “Irresistible” (Focus), his second feature-length movie as director and writer, Stewart lightens the mood considerably with biting comedy, still managing to get his points across. “Irresistible”’s subject matter, the political divide, which has never seemed wider, has long been a popular movie subject, increasingly so in the 21st century. Movies such as “Swing Vote,” “Long Shot” and “The Oath,” as well as the cable series in “Veep” and the streaming Netflix series “The Politician”, all fit under the same increasingly crowded umbrella as “Irresistible.”

Democratic political consultant Gary (Steve Carell in high gear) is still not completely recovered from the devastation of the 2016 presidential election. But his luck is about to change when he is shown an online video of rural America-based Jack (Chris Cooper), a farmer, ex-Marine and widower, standing up for immigrants at a town meeting in Deerlaken, Wisconsin. With the military base closed, the town’s population went from 15,000 to 5,000 overnight and the economy is in the toilet, leading to anti-immigrant sentiment.

Gary sees Jack as “the key back into the forbidden city” and heads to Deerlaken (on a private jet, no less) where he plans to recruit him to run as the Democratic challenger to the heavily Republican town’s Mayor Braun (Brent Sexton). A big fish out of water, Gary is given the full Midwestern friendliness treatment, from his choice of beverage and burger to coffee and pastries. In less than 24 hours, everyone in Deerlaken knows Gary’s name, which at first seems like the beginning of a series of low blows aimed at the heartland in general and Wisconsin specifically, but be advised to pay close attention.

As was to be expected, Gary’s first encounter with Jack doesn’t go too well, although Jack’s daughter Diana (Mackenzie Davis) does catch his eye. But the next morning, Jack is in Gary’s hotel room (it’s that kind of friendly, leave-your-door-unlocked kind of town) taking him up on his offer on the condition that Gary runs the whole campaign – wait for it – from Deerlaken.

From that point on, “Irresistible” goes into full-on political campaign mode. Volunteers are recruited (the phone bank set-up scene is hilarious), lawn signs and brochures are distributed, political TV ads are created and running, a campaign office is established, and Jack’s campaign makes the news.
It doesn’t take long for Gary’s archrival, foul-mouthed and dirty-dealing Republican political consultant Faith (Rose Byrne) to get to town and mark her territory, beginning by putting up a huge billboard promoting Mayor Braun’s reelection campaign. Gary and Faith’s interactions are a mix of seething hatred and sizzling sexual tension leading to some funny and rapid-fire exchanges
At first, the incumbent leads Jack 63% to 37%. However, Gary has plenty of tricks up his sleeve, including a trip to New York for an Upper West Side fundraiser where Jack proceeds to insult the host and attendees but still manages to raise an impressive amount of money; enough to fund an impressive war room along with the hiring of a larger staff including pollster Kurt (Topher Grace) and specialist Tina (Natasha Lyonne).

“Irresistible” is packed full of savvy political and social humor, two areas in which Stewart excels. Running gags, including Gary’s unintended offense of Dot (Pat Fisher) and the parodies of cable news channels, keep the laughs coming. Stewart should also be commended for the movie’s surprise (and meaningful) finale; a well-timed commentary during what is likely to be the most important election year in the country’s history.

Rating: B