Review: Political rom-com 'Long Shot' worth betting on
Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen make a winning combo as mismatched couple
She's hot. He's... Seth Rogen.
Can it work out? And how many gross-out gags will it take to get there?
Those were the parameters laid out 12 years ago when Rogen starred in "Knocked Up" as a schlubby guy outkicking his coverage opposite Katherine Heigl. And it's the same case in "Long Shot," where Rogen stars as, well, a schlubby guy outkicking his coverage, this time opposite Charlize Theron.
Fortunately for Rogen, "Knocked Up" worked. And so does "Long Shot," for the most part, though the stakes here have shifted.
Where in "Knocked Up," Rogen's character was dealing with bringing a baby into the world with a girl he barely knew, in "Long Shot," he's a struggling journalist attempting to woo one of the world's most powerful figures, the U.S. Secretary of State, who's making a bid to be President.
It takes a leap of faith to buy into the idea, not because of differences in perceived levels of beauty, but because "Long Shot" screenwriters Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah present a candidate running for the highest office in the land who's dating while on the campaign trail and couples up with one of her speechwriters, at that.
An over-the-top bodily fluid gag and an extended bit involving an MDMA trip gone wrong further undermine the film's throughline of reality, turning this male-minded fairy tale into pure fantasy.
But it's funny, uproariously so at times, and funny forgives a lot.
And Theron is a knockout, believable as both a straight-laced career politician and a foul-mouthed foil for Rogen's character who can not only hang with the boys, but raise the bar for them. Theron has never flexed her comedy muscles this hard — she's successfully done dark comedy in Jason Reitman's "Young Adult" and "Tully," and did whatever kind of humor was attempted in "A Million Ways to Die in the West" — and she proves to be an adept comedic force.
She plays Charlotte Field, Secretary of State for a bozo actor-turned-President who's decided to not seek re-election so he can shift toward making movies — Bob Odenkirk plays him as a harmless but equally vain stand-in for Trump — which makes her a prime candidate for the next Prez.
Rogen is Fred Flarsky, an idealistic journalist who's Brooklyn-based outlet has just been bought out by a blowhard media bigwig (Andy Serkis in outlandish, Mike Myers-style make-up) and suddenly finds himself out of a job. He attends a highfalutin party with his moneyed pal Lance (a typically charming O'Shea Jackson Jr.), and there he sees Charlotte, with whom he shares a past: She used to babysit for him when he was a kid.
They reconnect and Charlotte winds up offering him a job punching up her dry speeches with fresh witticisms. Turns out her political duties have left her rather clueless to the state of today's pop culture, so Fred introduces her to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, 2 Chainz and other entities which she has missed out on.
Over time — and much to the chagrin of her uptight handlers, played by June Diane Raphael and Ravi Patel — a romance blossoms between Charlotte and Fred, which could spell political suicide for the candidate.
But love conquers all, right? That theory is tested when a private video of Fred goes viral and causes a PR disaster for Charlotte that the film handles rather idealistically, if not outright insanely.
Director Jonathan Levine, who also helmed the Rogen-starring "50/50" and "The Night Before," is at home with the rhythms of Rogen's humor, and gives him room to riff and play off Theron. The jokes — there are one-liners about Roxette, "Beverly Hills 90210" and "Encino Man," and Boyz II Men make an extended cameo — hit a specific sweet spot that is targeted toward late-era Gen-Xers.
If the movie loses its grip in its final act, it at least errs on the side of optimism. "Long Shot" may have its head in the clouds, but in today's political climate, it turns out that's a pretty refreshing place to spend a couple of hours.
Rated R: for strong sexual content, language throughout and some drug use
Running time: 125 minutes