As one character points out in the trailer (though the line didn’t make it into the movie), “Long Shot” is essentially a role reversal of “Pretty Woman”. Seth Rogen is Julia Roberts, and Charlize Theron is Richard Gere.
That rom-com premise, with a modern political backdrop, had plenty of potential. But while Rogen and Theron as a couple somehow works, “Long Shot”, as a whole, is a major miss.
What this potentially clever premise didn’t need was to be turned into yet another raunchy Seth Rogen comedy. However, director Jonathan Levine (“50/50” and “The Night Before”) allows Rogen (who is an EP on the film) to do his typical schtick. This turns edgy, passionate political journalist Fred Flarsky into just another goofy Rogen movie character.
Theron plays Charlotte Field, the current U.S. Secretary of State. She’s looking to run for President in 2020. It turns out she babysat for Flarsky when they were both kids 25 years ago. When they randomly reunite at an event, sparks fly and Field asks Flarsky to become her speech writer.
“Long Shot” consists of a handful of nice, effective moments surrounded by sections of utter stupidity. The film has two screenwriters: Liz Hannah (“The Post”) and Dan Sterling (of Rogen’s controversial “The Interview”). Neither of their efforts get my vote.
Practically every concept is taken to the absolute extreme, as the film jams in all aspect of the “political romance” storyline: the intensity of the job, the intrusive media, having to deal with both sides of the political spectrum. And it’s all played so over-the-top that it’s impossible to take these characters and their situations seriously. Even fantasy rom-coms need to be based in reality.
Early on, Field tells Flarsky to be restrained with his writing. Theron and Rogen should’ve told the same thing to Levine. “Long Shot” goes from the obvious and ridiculous to, eventually, the offensive and crude. The results range from mediocre to embarrassing.
It’s also quite preachy and far from subtle. Politicians tend to go the extra mile to persuade voters. But movies such as this, that try to tell you what to think, are never authentically convincing.
The supporting cast on the “Long Shot” ticket is star-studded. But most are stuck playing cartoonish characters. This includes Bob Odenkirk as the current Commander in Chief, Alexander Skarsgard as an equally satirically flat take on Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Andy Serkis, almost unrecognizable as a slimy media mogul. Only O’Shea Jackson, Jr., who plays Flarsky’s best friend, rises above the material.
Every once in a while, Rogen says or does something in “Long Shot” that made me think back to his work as Steve Wozniak in 2015’s “Steve Jobs”. No one thought he could pull-off a restrained, dramatic, supporting role. But he did. The character of Fred Flarsky had the potential to be another major highlight of his career.
But Rogen and Levine likely thought most constituents wouldn’t want to see an atypical Rogen. After all, “Long Shot” is being promoted as “From the Producers of ‘Neighbors’ and ‘This is the End’.” Clearly they thought wrong.
As for the “Pretty Woman” comparison, there was potential for that as well — at the conceptual stage. In the hands of someone like the late Gary Marshall, “Long Shot” could have been magical. But what’s on the screen is missing the charm, nuances and emotional fiber that great rom-coms rely on, never leading us in the direction we want to go.