Five years after leaving as host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, which provided a nightly jolt of bracing political satire during the Bush-Obama eras, Jon Stewart returns to the spotlight as the writer and director of Irresistible. Picking up where many of The Daily Show’s concerns left off—the blue state-red state divide; political elitism; the influence of super PACs—the movie stars Steve Carell as a Democratic election guru who tries to mold a straight-talking Wisconsin farmer and military veteran (Chris Cooper) into a perfectly purple mayoral candidate. Irresistible is incredibly smart, politically astute, and virtuous at heart, but awfully wobbly as a visual and narrative endeavor. (Stewart’s previous feature experience is as co-writer and director of 2014’s Rosewater, a biographical drama about a journalist detained by the Iranian government.) As a comedy, the film can’t decide if it wants to be a vulgar, acerbic skewering of politicos like HBO’s Veep (Rose Byrne shows up as a foul-mouthed and frighteningly blond Republican strategist); a pragmatic but cheery look at small-town government like television’s Parks and Recreation; or an inspiring ode to the democratic process like Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. A last-minute twist, while a clever idea, clumsily brings all those threads together in a way that should be more satisfying than it is. Still, Cooper is fantastic (especially when his impromptu remarks to a group of Democratic D.C. super-donors become a lament about money’s influence on the electoral process), while the film’s underlying hopefulness feels like a cup of refreshing water in acidic, 2020 America. Penetrating as it is, Irresistible exists not to score political points, but to call for a renewal of the American political process.