Movies

Campaign-romance reform

Seth Rogen, Charlize Theron come together in love and politics in 'Long Shot'

The funniest bit in "Long Shot" comes in its first five minutes. Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen), a Jewish journalist working undercover as a neo-Nazi pledge, attempts to ingratiate himself with the group. Surrounded by Nazi-saluting wack jobs, Flarsky finds himself obliged, repeatedly, to offer his own noncommittal heil in return. The gestural gag sets the tone for a silly, superficial romantic comedy.

Set against a political backdrop, "Long Shot" capitalizes on our newly manic obsession with presidential politics. Flarsky writes for the alternative weekly newspaper The Brooklyn Advocate, a clear stand-in for the late, lamented Village Voice. When his paper gets bought out by Rupert Murdoch-esque media baron Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis, heavily made up to be the grotesque embodiment of capitalist consumption and political influence), Flarsky calls upon his best friend, Lance (O'Shea Jackson Jr.), for consolation. And so it is that Lance makes Fred his plus-one to a high-class World Wildlife Fund benefit with Boyz II Men as the entertainment.

There, to the live accompaniment of a 1990s R&B vocal group, Flarsky re-encounters an even bigger blast from his own '90s past: Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron). Once Fred's not-much-older babysitter and now the nation's youngest Secretary of State, Charlotte could hardly be more high-powered. She's just been chosen by sitting President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk) to be his heir apparent. Flarsky's forthrightness instantly charms Charlotte. Could straight-talking Flarsky be just the man she wants as her speechwriter, and maybe something more as she prepares to run for her presidential run?

Aside from the schlub-meets-glamourpuss hook implied by the film's title, screenwriters Dan Sterling (Rogen's "The Interview") and Liz Hannah ("The Post") work the angle that both Fred and Charlotte are true believers who want to be the change in their world. Flarsky has quit his newspaper in the knowledge that his cutting-edge reportage would be squashed, and his hot-headed commitment to the truth will not be suppressed. That makes him the squeaky wheel in Charlotte's presidential campaign, but also makes him the one who'll keep her honest when she's tempted to make political compromises that would effectively kill her signature policy proposal, a "Global Rehabilitation Initiative."

More simply, the uninhibited Flarsky helps the buttoned-down Field to loosen up a little and reconnect to her youthful passions. It's certainly true that the enormously high-powered feminist Field, whip-smart and workaholic, doesn't need any man to achieve conventional success, but if she wants that success to mean something, Charlotte recognizes the need to rediscover assets she's neglected along the way: humor and love and undying commitment, whether it be to her "bees, trees, and the seas" cause or a man who'll both understand her and stay by her side.

The romantic comedy gets sturdy direction from Jonathan Levine (Rogen's "50/50" and "The Night Before"), but the film's secret weapon is its supporting cast of funny folks. Beyond Jackson, Serkis and Odenkirk, we get the great June Diane Raphael as Charlotte's top adviser (someone give her her own movie, stat); Alexander Skarsgard as a toothy, Justin Trudeau-clone alternative to Flarsky; Ravi Patel; Randall Park and Lisa Kudrow (plus quick cameos from Raphael's real-life hubby Paul Scheer). As for Rogen and Theron, they remain welcome as movie stars and find a nice rhythm together. Even when the plot they inhabit gets ridiculous, Rogen and Theron have the chemistry and groundedness to keep "Long Shot" good enough for government work.

— Peter Canavese

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