You know how you take a flat-packed coffee table home from Ikea, and you think, “Maybe this will look as stylish as it did in the catalogue”? But then, after two hours turning an Allen wrench and dropping nickels into the swear jar, you realize your new coffee table looks as flimsy and modular as every Ikea coffee table you’ve ever built?
That’s “Long Shot.”
Directed by Jonathan Levine and starring Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron, rom-com “Long Shot” made its world premiere at South by Southwest Film Festival in March. If you’ve seen one of Rogen’s previous entries in the “lovable schmuck falls for more impressive woman who improbably falls for him, too” canon, the plot will sound familiar. Fred Flarsky (Rogen), a rabble-rousing journalist who’s not even that good at rousing the rabble, unexpectedly reunites with his childhood babysitter and crush, Charlotte Field (Theron). If opposites attract, this pairing is a high-powered laboratory magnet: Charlotte is the U.S. secretary of state trying to shepherd a global environmental deal to the finish line, a prelude to running for president.
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After their meet-again-cute at a swanky soiree (Boyz II Men performs, so you know that it’s grade A), Fred impresses Charlotte by sticking it to a Roger Ailes-like mogul who’s bedeviled the both of them (Andy Serkis, wearing makeup and facial prostheses, as is his wont). Impressed with Fred’s integrity and Rogen-esque one-liners, Charlotte plucks him to be her speechwriter. A whirlwind tour of the world ensues, the backdrop to much bonding and, eventually, romance.
The framework suggests that the movie could transcend expectations based on the sativa-saturated film-bro-graphy of Rogen and producing partner Evan Goldberg. “Long Shot” sounds ripe for vital satire of a real-life political moment that could never be skewered deeply enough. Instead, it hits with the force of an inflatable carnival-prize sledgehammer. Charlotte’s boss is a TV star-turned-POTUS (Bob Odenkirk, showing up to work) who’s unconcerned with policy, only in the Oval Office as a launchpad to greater fame. Don’t worry, his hairdo seems normal enough, and he doesn’t do anything weird with his lips. The joke stops there, though, with all the bite of a “Weekend Update” joke in 2019.
A few other pieces of set-dressing aside — including a pretty electric scene involving a white supremacist group — “Long Shot” seems unconcerned with speaking to our cartoonish political times. No lessons to be learned. That’s fine, if that’s not the movie the filmmakers wanted to create — an escapist rom-com sounds good right about now. However, the film constantly gestures at watery ideas about compromise and conviction but never makes a coherent point.
Charlotte’s smart and savvy, and “Long Shot” avoids caricature. The movie takes as a rightful given that she’s exactly where she’s supposed to be in her powerful position, and she gives a diplomatic speech like no one’s business. But Theron’s not given much to do comedically aside from be an elegant foil to Rogen’s riffing. A shame, given her expert timing and ability to get messy and weird — “Tully,” “Young Adult,” etc. Her one real comedic showcase (involving MDMA, a hostage negotiation and a hair full of confetti) is a treat imported from a better universe’s screwball version of the same movie.
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Rogen’s Rogen. He charms with unshaven gusto, he takes pratfalls down grand staircases, he mugs, he makes a Grindr joke that’s too funny to care if it’s even his joke to make. What does Charlotte see in him? You’re supposed to believe he’s a man of principle and an underdog brimming with decency who brings her back to her ideals. Sure, that’ll work. The pair’s genuine chemistry shines when they’re alone on screen, and that’s when the movie’s core of sweetness hits the ol’ pleasure centers: staring at the Northern Lights on a snowy Stockholm night, prom-dancing to Roxette in an Argentine kitchen, earnestly enjoying 2 Chainz songs together. These crazy kids, well, their titular long shot is easy to root for.
Speaking of the tunes, the movie’s music department is its secret weapon. Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire,” Frank Ocean’s cover of “Moon River,” Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” and more get pitch-perfect plot placement.
Much like Theron, the deep-bench supporting cast shines even when the script doesn’t give them the nuclear codes. As Charlotte’s top aide and Fred’s sparring partner, June Diane Raphael sinks every type-A shot like she just walked in from the set of “Veep.” You can’t wait until she’s on screen next. Similarly, O’Shea Jackson Jr. injects his scenes in the arm with charisma as Fred’s best friend. Alexander Skarsgård gets to cut loose and flash teeth as a goofy Justin Trudeau parody, and cameos from Randall Park and the almighty Lisa Kudrow are over far too soon.
As a kinda raunchy, kinda endearing popcorn flick, there’s stuff to enjoy about “Long Shot.” By dressing up like a movie trying to make a point, though, it just ends looking like an empty suit at its own podium.