After a corporate takeover of his website by the Rupert Murdoch-alike Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis), journalist Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen) quits his job. While being cheered up by old friend Lance (O’Shea Jackson) with a night out, Fred happens to find himself at the same event as US Secretary of State Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron). With both remembering that at 16-years of age Charlotte had been a neighbour and babysitter to 13-year old Fred – with viewers treated to an appropriately embarrassing flashback – conversation ensues and Flarsky is invited to work for Field as a scriptwriter.
Charlotte wants the presidency in 2020. President Chambers (an underused Bob Odenkirk) – in what it is a clear Donald Trump reference – is a lightweight former TV star who spends most of his day watching himself playing the President on television, in a role his former career. He sees his current position as a way to transition into being a movie star, and he will endorse Charlotte as his successor, providing she toes the line. Fields is a popular Secretary of State, but finds she needs a punchy, funny writer like Fred, when voter research (presented in a welcome cameo from Lisa Kudrow) reveals humour and reliability to be her weakness. Due to Fred’s down to earth nature, his genuine wish to know the real Charlotte, and his deep care for real and ethical public policy, the two bond and find they have a shared romantic interest. Can their relationship survive focus groups, sceptical aides, a spiteful Parker Wembley, and Charlotte’s presidential ambition?
Long Shot is decidedly not reinventing the wheel in terms of storytelling or the appeal of its central – and supporting – stars. Of the two leads, Rogen, in particular, is playing on much of what has put him where he is. Flarsky is a stoner, good natured, and – as with Knocked Up over a decade ago – there to serve the story by attempting to punch above his perceived weight, romantically. Theron is playing on her ability to do everything from ice cool glamour to grungy expectation-defying gross comedy. In support, Odenkirk plays on his ability to display hidden… well, shallows, while June Diane Raphael (probably still best known for the outstanding How Did This Get Made podcast – with co-star and real life husband Paul Scheer making a cameo here on the film’s Fox News equivalent) playing the very stock critical, cold aide to the more powerful side of the relationship.
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Raphael and Serkis, in particular – while both fun – encapsulate the film’s tonal confusion. It’s set-up to be every romantic comedy we’ve ever seen – mismatched couple, societal expectations weighing on them, they finally learn only their feelings matter, etc. In Long Shot, director Jonathan Levine (50/50) has gone noticeably cartoonish and one-dimensional with his supporting characters, but in support of a story that has an important environmental policy at the heart of it: an initiative so important to one of our players that it threatens the relationship when there are fears it will be watered down. As a viewer it is never quite clear if we’re along for a ride or watching something a little more weighty, to which we’ll need to pay a little more attention.
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The film itself is set-up a little more in service of story than comedic set pieces. There is one moment of body humour that was somewhat similar to the tone of the pink eye sequence in Knocked Up, and is, if anything, a little American Pie in feel. Mostly though, the story is simply two people reconnecting for the first time since childhood, and finding an easy ambience reflected in a good-natured chemistry between Rogen and Theron. They have no romantic tension – at least nothing that translates to the screen, but they look very comfortable in each other’s company: certainly more than Rogen ever did with Kathrine Heigl, for example.
Long Shot is really enjoyable for its full running time. Despite being the generally-far-too-long-for-a-comedy 125 minutes, it really never feels it, and despite slipping into some very well worn romantic comedy tropes it’s at least attempting to tell a story – something writers seem to work a little harder at when Seth Rogen is inserted into this genre than they would for any of the more traditional types usually leading in these films. It does mean, however, that some of the comedy is somewhat predictable, as it is being tailored to this lead. For example, if you figured a Seth Rogen character meeting with a senior Government figure would be a good excuse for security to find a lot of drug paraphernalia, you’d be right.
A lack of set pieces – Theron’s poise and her character’s powerful position are used far less for comedic undermining than anyone could ever guess – means that Long Shot is almost instantly forgettable. It’s full of heart and likeable performances though, telling a story that fills a generous running time. It’s also just about funny enough to be worth a watch.