Odd Couple

Seth Rogen & Charlize Theron make strange bedfellows in political rom-com

Long Shot 2 (72)

Long Shot
Starring Seth Rogen & Charlize Theron
Directed by Jonathan Levine
R

He’s the actor king of stoner schlubs. She won an Oscar for playing a serial killer in Monster.

You’ve heard that politics make strange bedfellows. In Long Shot, in which a bombastic, gonzo, out-of-work liberal journalist (Seth Rogen) is hired as a speechwriter by an elegant, globetrotting female presidential candidate (Charlize Theron), strange bedfellows make pretty interesting politics.

Turns out that the two knew each other—sort of—back in high school. Before she was America’s youngest (and sexiest) secretary of state, Charlotte Field was a slightly older babysitter for little Fred Flarsky, who crushed on her from afar.

How Charlotte and Fred reconnect, all these years later, and the sparks that fly when they do, is the story in Long Shot, a smart, sharp, frequently hilarious, often raunchy odd-couple rom-com loaded with clever political barbs, packed with fun, pop-cultural riffs and buoyed by a raft of familiar faces in supporting roles.

Fred comes on board as Charlotte’s campaign wordsmith, but ends up serving the secretary in more “personal” ways.

“Could you not tell anyone about this?” Fred asks one morning-after when he’s surprised by one of Charlotte’s ever-hovering security guards (Tristan D. Lalla). Don’t worry, says the special agent with a smile. “They wouldn’t believe me anyway.”

Rogen and Theron are immensely likable, with a crackling, whip-sharp chemistry that sometimes takes you by surprise. The movie makes you believe in them, root for them, pull for them, even when others try to yank them part—like Charlotte’s image-obsessed advisor (June Diane Raphael, who plays Brianna on Grace & Frankie). Driven by popularity polls, she compares Fred to a combination of Guy Fieri, Danny DeVito and a potato dressed in a windbreaker.

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Bob Odenkirk

Bob Odenkirk is the comically dunder-headed President of the United States, whose decision not to run for a second term leaves the door open for Charlotte. Andy Serkis plays the mogul at the head of a right-wing media empire. Alexander Skarsgård puts on a poofy brown wig to play the Canadian prime minister, who still has a soft spot for his one-time, international fling with Madam Secretary. O’Shea Jackson Jr. (he was young Ice Cube in Straight Outta Compton) brings a mega-dose of supporting-cast juice as Fred’s best friend, Lance; he’s the rare actor who can consistently steal scenes from Rogen, who tends to bellow and barge his way to the top of anything with a punchline. But he energizes the screen whenever he’s on it.

The movie isn’t a parody, or a satire. But you’ll see shades of real people in certain characters, easily. There’s a lot of Hillary Clinton in Charlotte—an idealistic secretary of state running for the nation’s highest office. And Odenkirk’s POTUS, a former television actor still re-living his best roles, will likely remind you of Ronald Reagan, who moved into the White House after a long career in Hollywood—or perhaps the current occupant of the Oval Office, who once famously “starred” in his own reality-TV franchise. Serkis’ media magnate is clearly a Fox in the TV henhouse; he thinks “hurricanes [are] caused by gay marriage.” For guaranteed chuckles, the movie keeps returning to a Fox & Friends-like morning talk show, where the panel of two doofus men (Paul Scheer and Kurt Braunohler) and a woman (Claudia O’Doherty) make eye-rolling commentary about Charlotte—alongside other networks’ more “serious” coverage.

There are plenty of laughs in Long Shot, and many of them are proud to hoist the movie’s R rating high. Drugs? Check. Sex? Yes. Self-gratification joke that becomes a major plot point? Ewwwww, yeah.

But there’s also a serious streak embedded in the humor about gender inequality and the challenges a woman faces in a man’s world. “Would you be asking a man about what kind of products they use in their hair?” Charlotte politely queries an interviewer. There are messages about compromise, taking risks and the art of politics at the highest—and lowest—levels.

We’ve been inside the Beltway many times before, with TV shows like Veep and Madam Secretary and movie comedies including Dave, Wag the Dog, Bulworth and The American President. Long Shot serves up a new cinema combo platter to the mix, a bawdy political-tinted escapist-fantasy romp with two stars who synch so naturally that you hope they’ll align for another project again soon.

Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen) and Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) in FLARSKY.

Fred urges Charlotte to reconnect with the idealism and fire of her high school years, when she was running for student council president, and channel some of that passion into her platform. A soundtrack of retro 1980s pop—plus an appearance by Boyz II Men—also helps set the stage, and the mood, with well-placed tunes by Blondie, Cameo, Bruce Springsteen and Roxette.

When Fred and Charlotte share a dance to Roxette’s “It Must Have Been Love,” it’s a throwback to how significant that tune was in another movie—Pretty Woman—about two other people from wildly different worlds coming together and falling, improbably, in love against the odds. What a long shot it was, as well, for Richard Gere and Julia Roberts, back in 1990.

Sometimes a long shot hits the mark, even when the odds are stacked against it. Rogen and Theron sure do, Fred and Charlotte do, and this Long Shot assuredly does. How to explain it? As Roxette sings, “It must have been love.”

In theaters May 3, 2019

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