Long Shot is a movie that is going to fly under the radar for a lot of folks, despite stars that should be able to pull in decent crowds, and that’s owing in part to the fact that audiences know what to expect from workaday rom-coms that can’t help but feel like they’re created by crowdsourcing.
That’s unfortunate here, because Long Shot actually has a lot going for it, and could have managed to revitalize a staple genre… if it hadn’t, well, been created at least by an overlarge committee, if not quite a crowd.
Clearly a film built from the middle out, Long Shot centers on Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen), a journalist in the truest, most anti-establishment sense of the word, who is in all other respects perfectly summed up by his name. He quits his job when his paper sells out to media mogul Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis), which leads to his attending a party where he runs into Secretary of State Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron), who used to babysit him as a teenager.
There’s enough work for the title simply in the effort to win over Charlotte using Flarsky’s schlubby, idealistic charm, but Charlotte is also hoping to take a shot at the Presidency, and the sitting President (Bob Odenkirk) is keen to endorse her… maybe.
Our unlikely couple renew their acquaintance because Charlotte is using an effort at an international eco-friendly agenda to bolster her chances at political relevancy, and she thinks Fred would be a real asset as a speech writer. He follows along on her trip around the world as she hopes to gain support for her initiative to clean up the world, which gives them the opportunity to fall for each other, which becomes Charlotte’s biggest hurdle to keeping her hopes alive.
In many ways the film is simply genre standard, but Theron delivers so well that the relationship pulls you in more than you might imagine. The problem with all such films is delivering believable transitions throughout an alleged relationship and Long Shot, almost exclusively off the back of Theron, pulls off even the least likely attempts. There’s a “getting closer” montage in the film, and while this is often little more than a replacement for a “suspend disbelief now” sign, it works here because there is solid attention to the realism of the conversations. Moreover, for all that this is at best a mostly disposable evening-killer, it sticks with its characters. Charlotte reacts in ways that make sense. Fred goes too far in ways that you believe are exactly the sort of thing he would do.
Had the film really believed in itself, it may have been the sort of soft winner that had people revisiting it for years. It reminds of the casual charm of Can’t Buy Me Love, only within a new mold, because we’re older now and though everyone has the exact same problems they had in High School, they have different packaging.
But, it isn’t content to lay things out naturally and let the film be what it is. Apparently feeling somewhat self-soothed by throwing in the kind of humor that one might expect from a Seth Rogen vehicle, the film meaninglessly switches tone several times and it’s both distracting and destructive. An escape from a den of Nazis ends in a cartoon fall, an embarrassing video needlessly goes to pre-pubescent humor levels (necessitating Theron’s discussion of same), and a legitimately comic hotel room exit goes four steps too far. Worse still, the supporting characters are mostly buffoonish caricatures that hardly transition completely to the proper medium. Serkis is a cross between Steve Bannon and goblin from The Dark Crystal, and Alexander Skarsgård plays a character that you wouldn’t be surprised to see lick Theron with a two-foot, cartoon tongue.
It isn’t just that these things aren’t funny, but that they are from a different film. It’s ultimately a decent enough ride, and sweet enough that it’s hard to care about its faults, but it can’t hold you. It works best in scenes that find Theron and Rogen shedding the trappings of the situational nonsense being thrown at them and trying to figure out each other’s characters. Oddly enough, there is a sex scene that has Theron delivering a remarkably honest, stunningly human expression of character via a gag line, and the moment becomes a touchstone for the whole film, except that the film repeatedly dodges living up to it.
It makes you wonder what would have happened if someone other than Jonathan Levine (50/50, The Night Before), who hasn’t done a lot of non-Rogen work, had been at the helm working to make a movie you’ll remember.