LONG SHOT – Review
So, you’re looking for a different kind of film this weekend, maybe a light snack about the glorious super-powered feast that most of the world devoured (and is still savoring) just a few days ago. Perhaps a “rom-com” may be just the thing, maybe featuring an Oscar winner? So, who’s her co-star? How about a “hook-up” with today’s unofficial “stoner” comedy star? Why am I asking so many questions (okay, just one more)? But just where would this unlikely duo connect? The world of global politics, of course! Still, most folks would consider the chance of these two “getting busy” a very LONG SHOT But hey, anything can happen at the movies.
We first meet one half of the romantic duo, Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen) as he finishes up some truly dangerous undercover research on an expose he’s writing for a scrappy, almost underground weekly newspaper. Ah, but his journalistic triumph is cut short when he’s informed that his paper has been bought out by right-wing media mogul Parker Wembley. Well, Fred has his integrity so he resigns despite his boss’s pleas to fire him (so he can collect unemployment). Upon hearing of this, Fred’s BFF Lance (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) insists that he treat him to a day of indulgence. Said day caps off with a performance by their fave R & B group at a fancy charity cocktail party. At that same party is the other half of said duo, Secretary of State Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron), who’s had quite a day herself. Her boss, President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk) informed her that he will not be seeking a second term. With the prodding of her aides Maggie (June Diane Raphael) and Tom (Ravi Patel), she decides to make a run at the Oval Office. Back on that fateful evening Charlotte and Fred lock eyes across the big party. She can’t place him, but he recalls her as his ideal back when she was his babysitter. She was his big unrequited “crush”. After her secret service agents bring him over, the two enjoy a reunion that’s cut short by the overbearing Wembley himself (Andy Serkis). This leads to a “viral video” moment and the two part. But Fred’s in the back of her mind, especially when Maggie and Tom tell her that the public doesn’t think she’s got much of a sense of humor. Charlotte’s read and enjoyed Fred’s articles and he’s outta’ work, so why not hire him to “punch up” her speeches? But she has to convince Fred that she will stick to her principals and not back down. She succeeds and Fred is joining them on the pre-campaign trail. Soon that long-ago attraction is rekindled. They try to keep it on the “down low”, but for how long? And can the voters possibly accept her with him?
This new work marks another success in the film career of unique star and, we can now certainly say, movie leading man Rogen. He could have made a safe comfortable living just starring in silly “weed” flicks like PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, but he’s strived to take on projects outside that “comfort zone”. Hey, he was even a superhero (though THE GREEN HORNET didn’t kick off a new franchise), has provided some cartoon voices (the family-friendly KUNG FU PANDA and MONSTERS VS. ALIENS and the not-for-kids SAUSAGE PARTY), and showed us his dramatic chops in STEVE JOBS and TAKE THIS WALTZ. Here’s he’s closer to his characters in KNOCKED UP and the NEIGHBORS flicks with some of the smarts from THE INTERVIEW. Rogen makes Flarsky more than the “doofus snags a hottie” in that he’s a determined investigator, with a strict sense of purpose and ethics that often work against his likability. Despite enjoying a “good time” Fred can be strident and close-minded, and Rogen shows us a guy that has trouble adjusting to the compromises of the “real world”. Luckily his character is guided by Theron’s strong, assured performance as Field who knows that you’ve got to “bend’ a bit, but wonders if she “gives in” too often. With Flarsky, she recalls those younger idealistic days with both joy-filled nostalgia and a touch of regret. Theron’s stunning looks draws us toward her particularly in those diplomatic dinner parties, but, as with Rogen, that can work against her, as many assume she’s doesn’t possess a sharp mind and a razor-sharp wit. And in the final act, Theron shows us how Field has been liberated by her friendship and eventual romance with Fred, generating real “heat’ even as they debate and disagree.
If the chemistry between the two leads weren’t enough, they’re surrounded by a horde of talented comic actors. Jackson is compiling quite a resume, this time giving us a street-savvy media tycoon who still like to “kick it” with his pals, and is the perfect “wing” man. Raphael is a treat as the non-nonsense b#*l-busting aide/campaign manager who tries to become a “living wall” between Fred and Charlotte while hiding her own secrets. Patel scores some chuckles as the put-upon number two in the Field team who could be pals with Fred. Randall Park has a terrific comic cameo as Fred’s understanding editor. The biggest surprise here may be Alexander Skarsgard as the handsome hunky Canadian Prime Minister (how’d they come up with that character). Though they photograph together like a dream (Joe and Jane Q. Public just eat them up like “eye” candy), the pairing of him with Field just doesn’t “click”. Beyond a casual flirt, Skarsgard is endearingly awkward as he fails at “sealing the deal”. The film’s real laugh-generator is Odenkirk whose TV actor turned politico trying to turn movie star is inspired casting. Plus he plays both “boob” (watching ad really enjoying clips of himself as the prez’ on his old TV show) and ruthless deal maker and career breaker when Field doesn’t “play nice” for his backers. The biggest of which is media magnate Wembley played with nasty troll-like glee by a nearly unrecognizable Serkis. Really, I had no idea who it was till the end credits rolled. Whether he’s using “motion capture” or, in this role, old-fashioned make-up and wigs, Serkis is one of our most gifted character actors.
Veteran comedy director Jonathan Levine (he worked with Rogen on THE NIGHT BEFORE and 50/50) keeps the pace bouncing along, avoiding the deadly “lull at the one hour mark” that crashes many comic films. He expertly uses quick edits along with slow motion to punch up the slapstick set-ups, while slowing things down for the intimate sequences that show love blossoming from the respect between the two leads. Of course, none of this would play without the whip-smart script from another comedy vet Dan Sterling (Lotsa’ TV and THE INTERVIEW) and relative newcomer Liz Hannah whose biggest credit is THE POST (this may account for some of the “insider” digs at the media and the “beltway”). They provide some great gags about the devotion to polls and surveys (Field is annoyed that her laugh and her waving”, as in saying “bye bye”, don’t “track” well). And big kudos to them for establishing early on that Charlotte is a few years older than Fred (the painfully funny flashback is a highlight). This sort of thing wouldn’t be permitted just a few years back when leading men had several decades on their romantic co-stars (still happens too much today), so bravo. They’ve combined some of the hilarity of Rogen’s “party” pics with the unlikely pairing love story of KNOCKED UP and the swooning political romance of THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT. If you’re looking for silly slapstick and smart satire then this new flick is truly no LONG SHOT.
4.5 Out of 5