(director/writer: Jon Stewart; cinematographer: Bobby Bukowski; editors: Mike Selemon/Jake Rabinovitz; music: Bryce Dessner; cast: Chris Cooper (Jack Hastings), Rose Byrne (Faith Brewster), Steve Carell (Gary Zimmer), Brent Sexton (Mayor Braun), Natasha Lyonne (Tina), Topher Grace (Kurt), C. J. Wilson (Dave Vanelton), Bill Irwin (Elton Chambers), Will Sasso (Big Mike), Mackenzie Davis (Diana), Debra Messing (Townhouse Woman), Eve Gordon (Tonya Vanelton), Christian Adam (Michael), Will McLaughlin (Little Mike), Blair Sams (Ann), Alan Aisenberg (Evan), Bruce Altman (Mr. Peeler); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Jeremy Kleiner/Lila Yacoub/Jon Stewart/Dede Gardner; Focus Features; 2020)

“Too safe and too hollow election-year satire.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

TV political satirist Jon Stewart (“Rosewater”), the former host of the Daily Show, is the writer-director of this too safe and too hollow election-year satire, whose jokes too often don’t work even if properly aimed, and its satire is not fresh enough for the times.

Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell) and Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne) are campaign strategists on opposite sides during an election for a mayor in the economically depressed small town of Deerlaken, Wisconsin.

The big-time strategists go there after the Republican Mayor Braun (Brent Sexton) calls for a resolution denying voting rights and benefits to anyone who can’t provide a valid ID and proof of citizenship, and a local farmer, widower and ex-marine colonel, Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper), eloquently and passionately lambastes the proposal as mean-spirited and delivers a liberal retort. This gets on YouTube, where Democratic strategist Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell), stationed in Washington, D.C., sees it and thinks he found someone to bring back supporters to his party after the Hillary debacle and goes to the small town to get him to run for mayor. The initially reluctant Hastings and his pretty daughter Diana (Mackenzie Davis) eventually agree, and Gary goes all-in for the underdog effort against the Republican. This action brings to town Zimmer’s nemesis, the nasty big mouth Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne). She shows up with big money sponsors to direct the Braun re-election campaign. Zimmer then raises matching money for his candidate at a New York fund-raiser hosted by the wealthy elite Mr. Peeler (Bruce Altman) from the East Coast.

Both campaigns are all smiles in front of the cameras, spend big bucks on the campaign and
get into a heated battle over the ideological differences of their politically opposite candidates.

The locals are pictured as ordinary folks, with many low-key colorful characters such as the baker (Blair Sams), bar owner and rooming house landlord (
C.J. Wilson), and the amiable giants Big and Little Mike (Will Sasso and Will McLaughlin).

The staffs of both parties, like
Kurt (Topher Grace) and Tina (Natasha Lyonne), don’t fit into this town and though skilled in politics and aggressive in their actions for their parties, are not the kind of folks that these locals can relate to.

I hardly found the pic irresistible. It takes a sentimental look at a forgotten Americana that is dying because there are too few jobs . The film tries to be a calming influence in this time of heated divisiveness. But this is a time when a political satire with more of an edge was demanded, not some mildly diverting one.