**1/2 out of ****
(for strong sexual content, strong language throughout, and some drug use)
Released: May 3, 2019
Runtime: 125 minutes
Directed by: Jonathan Levine
Starring: Charlize Theron, Seth Rogen, June Diane Raphael, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Ravi Patel, Bob Odenkirk, Andy Serkis, Alexander Skarsgård
With movies like Knocked Up, Superbad (as scriptwriter), and now this, Seth Rogen has built a career niche of schlubby guys winning the hearts of hot girls. I guess that’s fine so far as comedy fantasies go but I’ve never really been able to buy into that fundamental premise, in part for the fantasy itself. There’s an odd quasi-misogyny of a brand (which others have co-opted) that’s built on guys scoring way out of their league. But maybe that’s just me.
It’s repeated in Long Shot, and the approach is feebly propped up with an air of intellectual politick that doesn’t get any deeper than liberal virtue signaling (both in its broad ideals and lampoonish Fox News honcho Roger Ailes-styled villain).
Charlize Theron plays Charlotte Field, a Secretary of State who looks to succeed her boss in the White House, and Rogen is Fred Flarsky, a goofier Hunter S. Thompson-ish gonzo journalist iconoclast. Theron is more believable as the former than Rogen is the latter. The two have a past. Charlotte used to babysit a middle school Flarsky, and Flarsky had a crush on her. Now she wants him to be his speech writer and, wouldn’t you know it, Flarsky’s long dormant fantasy finally materializes.
This is more a rom-com than political satire, and it’s better at the rom than the com, but with both it resorts to the easiest (and sometimes lowest) genre devices to manipulate the desired outcomes, a.k.a. chemistry and laughs.
For laughs, it throws in cartoonish slapstick of such a violent sort that people (Rogen mostly) would be rushed to a hospital if not instantly paralyzed or killed but, instead, get up with a wince to let everyone know they’re alright. If that was the consistent style of the comedy that’d be fine, even great, but instead it’s a lazy fallback to the lowest common denominator (along with crude sexual humor) in a film that doesn’t commit to the sharper wit it occasionally strives for.
The romance is more effective, even surprisingly so, but that’s also helped with a big dose of nostalgia soundtrack. When sparks fly between Field and Flarsky is it because of chemistry between Theron and Rogen, or is it the feelings we already have attached to Roxette’s “It Must’ve Been Love” and its place in the Pretty Woman soundtrack? Maybe both, but the music is a big assist that does some emotional heavy-lifting by sentimental association.
The political satire, such as it is, follows the familiar notes. Field’s advisors are micromanaging hacks that don’t allow Field to be her true political (or personal) self. More broadly, Long Shot plays fast and loose with how politics actually works – especially with how carelessly an ambitious politico like Field who aspires to the highest office in the world would act (because Flarsky is such a catch?) – in order to maintain the script’s underlying contrivance.
Theron is the best thing that this movie’s got going for it. If nothing else, Long Shot is a calling card for studios to give her more purely (rather than darkly) comic roles but in better, more sophisticated material. (The fact that Theron, reportedly, had to get the Field role beefed up considerably before agreeing to sign on, sadly, comes as no surprise.)
Its one thematic virtue is found between Flarsky and his supportive (stock) best friend Lance (O’Shea Jackson Jr). They share a nice arc that appeals to our better natures in today’s toxically polarized political environment, that friendships should be based on shared humanity, not a political litmus test.
Long Shot has the feel of a straight-to-Netflix streamer with bigger stars. That’s not the worst thing in the world, and even works a charming time-waster (despite pushing it at two-plus hours) if you’re so inclined to Rogen’s brand of schmaltzy raunch. But that’s a big if.