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Long Shot

Posted May 7, 2019 By Curiosity Inc.

Let’s start with a moviegoing pro-tip: While most people typically go to the movies during the weekend, theaters have a difficult time bringing in the crowds at the start of the week. As a direct result, many theaters — especially the huge multiplex chains — offer steep, steep discounts for tickets sold on the first few weekdays. So, for example, if you wanted to check out a movie that got virtually zero promotion and dumped in a transparently godawful release window, you can buy a Tuesday night ticket at half-price and hedge your bets.

Long Shot comes to us from the producing team of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who previously worked with director Jonathan Levine on 50/50 and exec-producer Dan Sterling on The Interview. Sterling (also late of “The Daily Show”, “The Sarah Silverman Program”, and “Girls”) co-wrote the script for this, alongside Liz Hannah, who previously made her feature writing debut on The Post, of all movies.

To repeat: Imagine if a former “Daily Show” producer co-wrote a political satire/romantic comedy with the writer of a Steven Spielberg prestige picture, starring Seth Rogen. That in itself should give you a pretty clear idea of what to expect here.

Rogen stars as Fred Flarsky, an investigative journalist known for going to outrageous lengths in researching and writing powerfully incisive articles, motivated by deep-seated progressive liberal social justice values. He’s honest and outspoken to a fault, so much so that he quits in protest when his company is bought out by crooked billionaire Parker Wembley (imagine Andy Serkis playing Roger Ailes under a metric ton of makeup and you’re getting close).

Enter Charlotte Field, played by producer Charlize Theron. Presently, she’s the youngest Secretary of State in history, setting out on a worldwide tour to promote a new global environmental initiative as a springboard for her presidential campaign. But about thirty years ago, Charlotte and Fred were teenage neighbors, complete with Fred’s unrequited crush on his babysitter.

To make a long and convoluted story short (Too late!), Charlotte and Fred cross paths right when Charlotte is in need of a smart and comedic speechwriter and Fred is in need of a job. They get to know each other better on the worldwide initiative tour, our two leads affect each other in complementary ways, and we have our romantic romp.

First of all, there’s the obvious fact that this is a movie in which the dumpy white guy gets a gorgeous female romantic partner who’s way out of his league. Have we ever seen this dynamic play out with the gender roles reversed? With a gay couple? With an interracial couple? Call it politically correct or whatever, but I’ll take anything to shake up the exact same formula we’ve seen over and over and over again. From Woody Allen to Adam Sandler to pretty much every movie Rogen made in the mid-to-late aughts, we’ve seen the schlumpy Jewish white guy charm the A-list starlet to bed a million times already. Hell, even Sandler himself pointed this out a few days ago!

It also doesn’t help that Rogen can’t act. At all. That’s an established fact by now. He’s got the one schtick and that’s it. No matter what script he’s given, no matter what genre of movie he’s in, no matter what character he’s supposed to be playing, no matter who else is in the cast or crew, the results are not going to change. In every single one of his 95 IMDb credits to date, he looks and sounds and acts exactly the same.

(Though to be fair, it’s really quite impressive that Rogen could star in a Katherine Heigl picture and come out with his career intact. Just ask Ashton Kutcher and Gerard Butler. The woman is cinematic poison and everything she touches is doomed. But I digress.)

So if you go into this movie expecting some high-brow political satire with anything halfway intelligent to say, take a step back and remember that this is a movie starring Seth Rogen and produced by the same. You’re getting pratfalls, drug humor, sex jokes, bodily humor, and that’s it. The humor gets very juvenile very quickly, and you won’t see very many jokes more complex than a guy jizzing into his own face.

That said, the secret to Rogen’s success is that even if his performances are all the same and his movies are functionally brain-dead, he has an uncanny knack for eliciting audience sympathy. The man is clearly very passionate about what he does, and his movies are at their best when they speak from the heart. And that’s the saving grace of this film.

Fred may have the best of intentions, but he’s still a hyperactive loudmouth who refuses to compromise who he is and what he believes in. Compare that to Charlotte, who has to maintain her image like she’s on camera at all times and make policy adjustments if she wants to get anything done. Learning how to compromise is an integral part of both politics and relationships, and dovetailing the two together in this way was a frankly ingenious touch. What’s more, it’s a neat way of making statements about integrity, honesty, and cooperation that are universal and personal, thus making political statements with a light-hearted and approachable way. Very clever.

This brings me to the other saving grace: Charlize Theron, who is positively on fire here. This role needed a head of state who could plausibly fall in love with a loser like Seth Rogen, and not lose an ounce of dignity. A woman who could plausibly talk world leaders out of a military crisis while high on ecstasy. Charlotte is a poised and polished politician whose public persona has been micromanaged to the last fraction of an inch, yet there’s a whole side to her that nobody — even Charlotte herself — never saw until Fred brought it out.

Running the emotional gamut like that needed an actress of unfathomable skill. Lucky, then, that the filmmakers were able to land an actor whose demonstrated range is somewhere between mammoth and infinite. Plus, even if Rogen can’t match her in terms of acting talent, he’s entirely capable of matching her in terms of passion and comic timing. That’s more than enough to generate the kind of chemistry this movie needed.

The rest of the cast is pretty damn solid, too. Bob Odenkirk is always a pleasure to see onscreen, ditto for Andy Serkis, and I really wish the filmmakers had found a way to keep Randall Park around for more than just the one scene. We’ve also got O’Shea Jackson Jr., Alexander Skarsgard, June Diane Raphael, and Ravi Patel, all dependable supporting players far better than their respective roles deserved.

That said, I was a little peeved by all the aggressively positive shout-outs to Lil Yachty and Boyz II Men, for no better reason than because those are the musicians the filmmakers could get for a cameo. Though at least the Boyz II Men cameo made a kind of sense — the whole soundtrack is flooded in turn-of-the-’90s nostalgia. Given how the central romance has its roots in the teenage years of our main characters, that actually works really well.

Oh, and on a final miscellaneous note, that aurora borealis moment was really fucking awkward. Rogen could have slipped and broken his nose and it would’ve made a better segue.

Long Shot is undeniably a rom-com, and hits every expected plot beat like clockwork. Yet it’s a rom-com that’s genuinely both romantic and comical, and that’s gotta be worth something. While Seth Rogen’s pathetic lack of range and pervasive brand of low-brow humor both drag the movie down somewhat, there’s no avoiding the fact that this was made by a beautifully talented cast and crew, and Charlize Theron alone is worth the cost of admission.

Bottom line: This is a stupid movie made by intelligent people. Definitely worth a look.