By Daniel Dunaief
An improbable relationship between a hot-headed and schlumpy reporter Fred Flarsky, played by Seth Rogen, and a driven and successful Secretary of State Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) forms the basis of Jonathan Levine’s rom-com “Long Shot.”
Set in contemporary Washington, D.C., and New York, the Lionsgate film addresses some current political issues, even as it centers around the pairing of the brilliant and successful Field with the less polished but talented writer Flarsky.
For starters, the movie earns its R rating with numerous bawdy humor, phallic references and strong, unrestrained language. It is not a cute parable about modern times that forces people to reconcile their differences and clean themselves up because of some broad theme like love conquers all — it is a feather duster heading for the audience’s funny bone. If you liked other Rogen films like “Knocked Up,” you’ll likely enjoy this one as well, even without his customary collection of collaborators.
The film offers few true surprises, even as it hits its humorous target several times, evoking laughter from an audience that appreciates the hijinks that spring from the combustible and rule-breaking Flarsky and the controlled Field, who entered the political fray because she wanted to change the world.
Flarsky isn’t exactly a trophy partner for Field, who is putting together an international environmental policy as a triumphant final act as secretary of state before she announces her candidacy to succeed her vacuous boss, President Chambers, played by Bob Odenkirk. A former TV star — hmm, I wonder where they came up with his character — Chambers is leaving the highest office in the land as he attempts to become a crossover film star.
Once she decides to run for office, Field learns from an image team that she needs to add humor to her speeches. Enter Flarsky, a former neighbor whom she used to babysit, who is also a talented and shoot-from-the-hip writer.
Every movie, even an odd-couple rom-com needs some kind of villain. Parker Wembley, played by Andy Serkis, fills that bill. Wembley owns an expansive and conservative media empire — uh, yeah, the challenge to figure out the inspiration for this character isn’t terribly taxing, either.
Wembley meanders in and out of the film, offering a menacing and overblown presence who will force the couple not only to confront their differences but also to maneuver through the kind of tension those who live public lives desperately try to avoid.
“Long Shot” has a few sidekicks who add necessary spice to the film, including Maggie Millikin (June Diane Raphael), who says what many in the audience are thinking as Field allows her developing attraction to Flarsky — say what? — to threaten her promising political career.
Creating Flarsky’s one-person entourage, Lance, played by O’Shea Jackson Jr. who bears a striking resemblance to his father Ice Cube, offers support, encouragement and a few surprises for the strong-willed Flarsky.
As with some of the other supporting actors, Agent M, played by Tristan D. Lalla, has a memorable and solid deadpan line when Flarsky asks him not to tell anyone about his relationship with Field.
While Rogen and Theron genuinely try to bridge the differences between the characters, it is unclear, other than through Flarsky’s compelling writing, why Field is so enthralled with him. Sure, Rogen has been successful in other movies and has built an effective career as an underachieving underdog, but her character doesn’t know that.
Even if the movie doesn’t break much new ground, deliver any huge surprises or provide grist for intense postmovie discussions, it does offer an easygoing and humorous break from our own reality.