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Sometimes the Dark Horse Wins

Seth Rogen
Seth Rogen
 126 Minutes
Rated: R
Directed ByJonathan Levine
Starring: Seth Rogen, Charlize Theron    
Long Shot

There is a long-standing tradition in American romantic comedies in which funny but not-all-that-handsome actors are paired up with beautiful but not-all-that-funny actresses and wind up living happily ever after. This tradition led to pairings of Woody Allen with Diane Keaton, and, later, Mia Farrow, and, more recently, Adam Sandler and a variety of actresses, most notably Drew Barrymore. The Allen films worked, not as romances but as comedies, because Allen was a very amusing guy and concentrated on making a funny movie. The Sandler films usually didn’t work because Sandler wasn’t all that funny in them and concentrated on the romantic aspect of the film. The most recent example of this syndrome is the pairing of Seth Rogen with Charlize Theron in the new political comedy, Long Shot. Surprisingly, it’s one of the best romantic comedies of the year.


Rogen is no stranger to being paired with a beautiful leading lady, having made Knocked Up with Katharine Heigl a decade ago. That movie, however, was little more than a Judd Apatow frat house comedy, with Rogen coming off better in scenes with his buddies Paul Rudd and Jason Segel than in those with Heigl. But things change, and the older Rogen now has a more suitable leading lady in Charlize Theron, who is an equally commanding screen presence and an accomplished, yet underrated, comic actress as well.


In Long Shot, Theron plays Charlotte Field, the Secretary of State to a President (Bob Odenkirk) who, like some bizarre cross between Ronald Reagan and Martin Sheen, got elected because he looked impressive when playing a president on a hit network television series. Now, however, he wants to get into films, so he is stepping down and wants Charlotte to be his replacement. And so, Charlotte goes out on the campaign trail, an earnest idealist, but not a polished campaigner. Enter Fred Flarsky (Rogen), a crusading reporter whose career has been on a downward spiral, culminating in his leaving an alternative newspaper that has just been bought out by a Rupert Murdoch wannabe, Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis, looking like Gollum’s even more evil uncle). To cheer Fred up, his best friend Lance (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) takes him to a swanky fundraiser where Charlotte is the guest of honor.


It turns out that Charlotte and Fred share a history, since she babysat for him some 20 years previously. Even though Fred literally falls down a flight of stairs and makes a complete idiot out of himself, Charlotte takes a liking to him and invites him to become her speechwriter. Fred agrees and becomes part of her entourage on a world tour. Charlotte’s goal is to gain support for a major international environmental treaty while gaining public credibility as presidential material. However, as the trip goes on, Charlotte and Fred wind up becoming more attracted to each other, and, at the same time, she discovers that the world of politics is a dog-eat-dog jungle.


Although Seth Rogen receives a producer’s credit for Long Shot, he is not one of the screenwriters (although I suspect he had some input, either in the script or in ad-libs). Instead, screenwriting honors go to Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah. It’s an intriguing pairing. His background is in comedy (he was executive producer of The Office), while she wrote the screenplay for last year’s The Post. With those two different input sources, Long Shot at times winds up being three films in one: a Seth Rogen raunch comedy, a romantic comedy, and a political satire.


The film fares worst of all as political satire. It scores points occasionally, but its targets are too broad and not funny enough. Andy Serkis is positively reptilian as the slimy Parker Wembley, who is always trying to get Charlotte’s ear, so much so that he seems to be searching for a mustache to twirl in each scene. Bob Odenkirk winds up being too much of a lame buffoon in his handful of scenes (imagine Sam Rockwell’s George W. Bush in Vice after having undergone a lobotomy). But worst of all is the notion that an obviously smart woman could have progressed so far in politics without realizing just how cutthroat it is. The filmmakers would have audiences believe that Charlotte is an updated version of Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, but she’s clearly too sharp a cookie. Fred provides some counterbalance the more cynical reporter, but he also gets caught by surprise too often.


While Long Shot is somewhat hit and miss as political satire, it fares considerably better as a romantic comedy. The movie faces a big initial stumbling block in asking the audience to accept Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron as a romantic couple (in fact that forms the basis for a major gag featuring a similar fictional pairing of Kate Middleton and Danny DeVito). But the actors work their way through it by taking their time and letting scenes play out, only gradually leading to a physical connection. The screenplay helps in that regard by adding a character, the prime minister of Canada, who, as played by Alexander Skarsgard, would seem to be a natural match for Charlotte (and who does date her). He is urbane, charming, and helps her out of a run-in with Wembley at one event, but it’s clear the two have no chemistry, while Charlotte plays well off Fred.


Of course, it wouldn’t be a Seth Rogen comedy without his crude sex-and-drug humor, mixed in with his complete willingness to make himself look like an idiot to sell a joke. Long Shot has its share of Rogen pratfalls, most of them rather hit-or-miss, especially an extremely crude blackmail video of Fred that Parker Wembley tries to use against Charlotte. On balance, they are funny, but the real surprise here is the way Charlize Theron throws herself into the humor. A scene in which she has to respond to a possible international crisis while drunk and high is the funniest in the entire movie.


Overall, Long Shot works. Despite the political trappings, the fundamental relationship between Rogen and Theron could have made for a good romance in virtually any setting. The movie is a bit too long and trying at times (the international whirlwind political tour Charlotte goes on could have been pared down to about two total minutes of screen time), but the lively performances make up for it. Of particular note is O’Shea Jackson, Jr. in what easily could have been a throwaway role as the straight man best friend. He manages to come off as Rogen’s equal in their scenes together, despite not having any really good punch lines. The movie itself, however, doesn’t suffer from a shortage of punchlines; this is one longshot well worth betting on.

In this clip, Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen discuss their dating lives.

Read other reviews of Long Shot: 

Long Shot (2019) on IMDb