Thursday, May 2, 2019

She's beautiful; he's a schlub

Long Shot goes for laughs by teaming Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron. It probably will be a hit -- but not with me.
The Long Shot, an improbable romantic comedy starring Charlize Theron (beautiful) and Seth Rogen (schlubby) likely will score with audiences, more for its comedy than its romance. Directed by Jonathan Levine (50/50), the movie plays to the expectation that someone who looks like Theron -- and who does a better job of looking like Theron than Theron herself? -- possibly could fall for someone who looks like Rogen, who, as far as we know, never has been mistaken for Bradley Cooper.

To make the movie even more ludicrous, Theron portrays a Secretary of State with presidential ambitions and Rogen has been hired to play a rogue journalist who has little respect for anything that might be described as the "official" world. It's reasonable to wonder how Rogen's Fred Flarsky would even know someone such as Theron's Charlotte Field.

We quickly learn that the relationship traces back to Fred's teens. The slightly older Charlotte babysat for Fred, who expressed his fondness for her with an erection that caused his pants to bulge. Evidently, the moment was so important that Fred never forgot it.

When Fred and Charlotte meet as adults -- if that's what the character played by Rogen can be called -- they strike up a relationship. They meet, by the way, at a party at which Boyz II Men makes an appearance. Turns out they're both Boyz II Men fans. What are the odds?

Charlotte is impressed with Fred's candor as a supposedly fearless and funny journalist who works for a Brooklyn newspaper. As luck would have it, Fred is newly unemployed having quit his job when his paper was taken over by a right-wing tycoon.

Field hires Fred as a speechwriter and ... well ... I don't have to tell you that one thing leads to another and an unlikely romance blossoms between the Secretary of State and this slovenly Secretary of Sate. (I know, "sate" isn't a noun, but I couldn't resist.)

The movie plays a bad-taste card early. In his effort to infiltrate a meeting of neo-Nazis, Fred agrees to have a swastika tattooed on his arm. That way, the skinheads will believe he's one of their Jew-hating brethren. Sure.

I suppose all of this could have worked had the screenplay, credited to Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah, found a comic tone that could accommodate both meathead humor and something slightly more sophisticated.

If Long Shot scores with audiences, it may be because Levine's understands that all successful comedies require a couple of major moments that have been engineered to elicit the always desirable Big Laugh.

At one point, Field's advisors (June Diane Raphael), tries to embarrass Fred, who has been told that he should shed his neo-hippie attire and find a suit he can wear to one of Field's appearances at an international conference. They find him a suit that would look out-of-place at a Scandinavian folk festival, but the joke is undermined by a question: Would Fred really be stupid enough to wear this ridiculous outfit?

If you're going to hire Rogen, it's probably fitting to work masturbation into the story and if you can find a way to include a masturbation joke with ejaculate, you've struck gold. Levine does both. I'll say no more.

If you've seen any Rogen performance, you already know that he'll punctuate the proceedings with wisecracks, some of them clever. Theron gives a reasonably adept comic performance as her character is put in the position of having to defend Fred against those who believe that he's too much the irredeemable slob to qualify as a romantic partner for someone who aspires to the nation's highest office, currently held by a self-involved fool played by Bob Odenkirk.

The supporting cast includes Alexander Skarsgard as the Canadian Prime Minister, a suave, good-looking fellow who's supposed to make an ideal companion for Charlotte, aside from his creepy pretensions and a fingernails-on-blackboard laugh. O'Shea Jackson Jr. shows up as one of Fred's buddies, a guy who's successful in business. Andy Serkis, looking strange as ever, plays the media mogul who's trying to gobble up the entire media world.

I know from the reaction of a preview audience that enough folks will find Long Shot hilarious to make it into a small hit. To wit: There's even a scene in which the Secretary of State, uncharacteristically high on drugs, must deal with a national security crisis.

But I'm not casting my vote for a comedy that, like a long-winded political speech, goes on for two hours, and which too often seems more interested in packaging gags than in taking on political hypocrisy or, heaven forbid, something audiences truly hold sacred: the romantic comedy. Rather than challenging the form, the movie can't resist capitulating to it.

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