“Long Shot” is a movie somewhat at war with itself, seeking to combine political satire with crude (in the mode of many Seth Rogen movies) romantic comedy. Both elements work in fits and starts, but they tend to offset each other, yielding a film more enjoyable for individual moments than any sort of cohesive whole.
Fortunately, some of those moments are very funny, and Rogen’s co-star, Charlize Theron, proves adept at not only garnering laughs but bringing shades of dimension to a role that could easily have been paper thin.
Still, the premise of an ordinary, even schlubby guy becoming involving with the glamorous, globetrotting Secretary of State — as she gears up to mount a presidential bid, no less — doesn’t really hold up when subjected to any sort of scrutiny, and the more knowing observations about the nature of politics make resolving the movie’s conflicting impulses in any plausible way an even longer shot than the title.
The set-up casts Rogen as Fred Flarsky (presumably because “Flintstone” was taken), a muckraking local journalist who quickly finds himself out of a job, after his newspaper is purchased by a sneering billionaire (an unrecognizable Andy Serkis), whose TV network looks and sounds suspiciously like Fox News.
Dragged by his friend (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) to a fund-raiser, Fred bumps into Theron’s Charlotte Field, who he actually knew, briefly, when they were teenagers. His plight inspires her to bring him aboard as a punch-up writer for her nascent campaign, much to the chagrin of her trusted aide, Maggie (June Diane Raphael).
The premise creates the excuse for the two to spend lots of time together — Fred needs to know Charlotte, he says, to write in her voice — as well as squabble a lot about political expediency versus idealism. Specifically, Charlotte’s sweeping environmental initiative needs the backing not only of world leaders but the current president (Bob Odenkirk), while Fred lacks much patience when it comes to compromise.
Directed by Jonathan Levine (“Snatched”) from a script credited to Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah, “Long Shot” works hard to develop a bond between Charlotte, who doesn’t have much time to date; and Fred, who realizes he’s punching outside of his weight division.
The impediments to their getting together, however, are even more formidable than most rom-coms, and a few amusing sequences — like the two getting high together — never really sell the idea, despite yielding some broadly comic scenes.
“There is no way the two of you work,” says Maggie, who is dismissive of Fred, part of an interesting conversation about unequal power relationships when women hold the upper hand. Alas, “Long Shot” keeps dropping that thread, essentially, to pursue its more conspicuously R-rated gags, which feels like a missed opportunity, however funny a few of them might be.
Some of the most inspired bits, as a consequence, tend to involve supporting characters, from Odenkirk’s president — a former actor who still enjoys watching himself play a Commander in Chief on TV — to Alexander Skarsgard as the dashing Canadian prime minister, a more obvious love interest for Charlotte despite his hidden quirks.
“Long Shot” basically qualifies as counter-programming, a movie looking for whatever audience is left over beyond what should be another big weekend for “Avengers: Endgame.” If the financial expectations are modest, they at least match the movie’s overall merit.
“Long Shot” premieres May 3 in the US. It’s rated R.