By Kim Hughes
It says something about the comedic skills and on-screen chemistry of Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron that we viewers actually believe a scruffy, lefty writer prone to pugnacious pronouncements could be the love interest of a luminously beautiful, whip-smart, ambitious politician with a moral compass. Or that there could be, in 2019, a luminously beautiful, whip-smart, ambitious politician with a moral compass.
But believe we do. New comedy Long Shot defies many conventional odds, juxtaposing sharp political critique with trivia night–worthy pop culture nods while ladling on more sub-references than former comic Dennis Miller could conjure before he became a Republican dolt. There are a lot of snarks like that in Long Shot. Attend with your mind on alert.
Long Shot opens as guerilla journalist Fred Flarsky (Rogen) is infiltrating a neo-Nazi group; things go south before Fred receives the whole of the obligatory swastika tattoo. The half-finished inking becomes just one of many winning running gags coursing through the film.
Anyway, the journalism racket is a tough business in contemporary times, and soon Fred is between jobs. Luckily, Fred has punchy, opinionated Lance — O'Shea Jackson Jr. a.k.a Ice Cube Jr., best known for playing the old man in Straight Outta Compton — in his corner.
Less wingman than bespoke cheerleader, Lance is Fred’s ticket to betterment. Fred and Lance find themselves at a sparkly event attended by Boyz II Men and Charlotte Field, Secretary of State of the United States and, thanks to her corruptible and fame-obsessed president (Bob Odenkirk, on mark), suddenly a contender for the presidency.
As it happens, Charlotte recognizes Fred as her former babysitting charge. They chat and spar. Charlotte needs someone clever and talented to help broadcast her humanity to the voting public via speeches. Fred, intrigued by his former crush and hopeful that this proximity to power can help him safeguard a moral agenda, signs up. Of course, Charlotte’s key strategist Maggie (June Diane Raphael) has serious doubts about this connection and works hard to thwart the budding connection.
What follows is a whirlwind spin across the globe as Charlotte does her job, cultivates the base for future endorsement while Fred tags along, enduring pratfalls, silly outfits, a litany of amusing wide-eyed reaction shots and some very good drugs, which he shares. Fred’s growing influence on Charlotte unveils the person behind the politician. Charlotte, meanwhile, demonstrates the difficulty in walking a straight line when so many are so eager to create shortcuts that enrich themselves.
This all plays much more fun than it sounds. Director Jonathan Levine (Snatched, 50/50) doesn’t slow things down for a minute. Cheeky namedrops (George Clooney to Jennifer Aniston to Woody Harrelson) pervade; politicians real and imagined are skewered — notably Justin Trudeau, hilariously channeled by Alexander Skarsgård who, like Andy Serkis (natch) as an evil corporate troll, is all but unrecognizable — and the whole thing culminates in a gross-out scene that owes its soul to the Farrelly brothers.
Perhaps most impressive is that none of this breaks new narrative ground or pushes the boundaries of how images unspool across the screen. Moreover, much of what happens in Long Shot is categorically impossible in any world any of us recognize. Yet the movie feels urgent, actual, and very much of-the-moment, like a funny time capsule for future generations who may be inclined to debate the difference between being a movie star and merely a star who acts in movies over copious bar shots and a little blunt. Take note, Jennifer Lopez: the bar has been raised on the old, beleaguered romantic comedy.
Long Shot. Directed by Jonathan Levine. Starring Charlize Theron, Seth Rogen, O'Shea Jackson Jr., Bob Odenkirk, Alexander Skarsgård, Andy Serkis, June Diane Raphael and Ravi Patel. Opens wide May 3.