In Long Shot, Seth Rogen plays Fred Flarsky, an idealistic, crusading journalist who works for an independent newspaper called the Brooklyn Advocate. When Flarsky learns that the paper is going to be sold to Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis, even less recognizable here than in his CG apesuit in the Planet of the Apes movies) and Wembley’s nefarious media conglomerate (a thinly disguised stand-in for Fox News), he quits–and finds himself unable to land any other work.
Through a meet-cute-by-falling-down-a-flight-of-stairs at a party, Fred runs into Secretary of State Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron), who was once his neighbor and babysitter a long time ago. The two get reacquainted and, after reading some of his work online, Charlotte decides that she wants to hire Fred to “punch up” some of her speeches–her political team has ascertained that she needs to be funnier if she wants to make a planned run at the presidency. As she and Fred (who has never really stopped crushing on her) begin to work more closely together, the inevitable happens. But will the nation accept the poised, glamorous Field with the schlubby Flarsky?
That is the romantic comedy narrative at the heart of Jonathan Levine’s (Warm Bodies) film, a confused split personality of a movie that manages to be both entertaining and irritating at the same time. While one has to stretch the bounds of belief pretty thin to imagine what Charlotte sees in Fred–who she described as being very smart when he was 13, but is now the latest in a long line of loud, needy, graceless Rogen men-children–the pair actually manage to awaken some kind of sweet chemistry once in a while when Rogen remembers to dial it back down and just play off the far more nuanced Theron.
As Charlotte, Theron is the best thing in Long Shot and her performance hints at another, perhaps more mature romantic comedy/political satire that this film could have been. Ambitious yet clearly unhappy, Charlotte is slowly coming to realize just how much she has had to compromise to get to where she is. Her expansive plan to save the environment is met with opposition by her boob of a boss, President Chambers (a hilarious Bob Odenkirk), who’s stepping down to return to his career as a TV actor (he once played a president on TV, which is basically how he got himself elected).
Chambers won’t endorse Charlotte’s campaign if she doesn’t eviscerate her “Bees, Seas, and Trees” initiative, as demanded by–you guessed it–Parker Wembley and other billionaires (“All I have left is bees! I don’t even like bees!” she complains bitterly at one point). At the same time, her burgeoning relationship with Fred, in which she gets to cut loose and have some fun once in a while, is also a touchy subject with her Chief of Staff Maggie (June David Raphael), who would prefer that Charlotte date the much more photogenic but completely empty Canadian Prime Minister (Alexander Skarsgard).
For its first two acts, Long Shot sort of walks the line between the kind of broad, borderline tasteless comedy that Rogen usually stars in and a somewhat more sober mix of the political and romantic. The challenges facing a woman in politics are front and center (“Can a woman handle the presidency?” the morons on Wembley News ask at one point. “We’ll talk about it next with Chris Brown, Jeremy Piven, and Brett Ratner”), but the issue of what she does with her personal life (which was addressed somewhat more seriously in Rob Reiner’s The American President) is undermined by Fred’s often crude behavior. Presidential campaign or not, it can be difficult to see why Charlotte keeps him around.
The story takes a real nosedive in the third act, when the relationship is weaponized against Charlotte and the movie makes a clunky attempt to dig deeper into politics. One scene in particular, involving a surprise revelation by Fred’s best friend Lance (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), is not only jarring but tone-deaf to what is going on in the world right now. Oddly, it’s also the only scene in which specific political parties and preferences are brought up: Charlotte and Chambers’ own affiliation is never mentioned, although whatever ideology she still clings to seems utterly at odds with the narcissistic, idiotic chief executive.
Despite its flaws and contrivances (and, at nearly two hours, its comedy-averse length), Long Shot will make you laugh, and as repetitive as it can be, Rogen’s onscreen persona is still good for a number of off-color jokes and asides. Theron is the MVP, though, giving Charlotte a life and complexity that may well have originated in Liz Hannah (The Post) and Dan Sterling’s script, but is ill-served by much of the rest of the material around her. As clumsy and ham-fisted as it can be, Long Shot occasionally hits the mark.
Long Shot is out in theaters this Friday, May 3.